Zanele Muholi - Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness

Jan 8, 2021 - Mar 20, 2021


Opening on January 8th, CVA is proud to present Zanele Muholi - Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness, organized by Autograph, London and curated by Renée Mussai. In more than 80 self-portraits, celebrated visual activist Zanele Muholi (South Africa, b. 1972) uses their body as a canvas to confront the deeply personal politics of race and representation in the visual archive. Their ongoing series Somnyama Ngonyama, which translates to 'Hail The Dark Lioness' from isiZulu, one of the official languages of South Africa, playfully employs the conventions of classical painting, fashion photography, and the familiar tropes of ethnographic imagery to rearticulate contemporary identity politics.

Muholi states, "I'm reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other. My reality is that I do not mimic being Black; it is my skin, and the experience of being Black is deeply entrenched in me. Just like our ancestors, we live as Black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear."

Throughout the series, the dark complexion of Muholi's skin (intensified through enhanced contrast applied in post-production), becomes the focal point of a profound, multilayered interrogation of beauty, pride, desire, self-care, well-being, and the many interlinked phobias and isms navigated daily such as homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, racism, and sexism, to name but a few.