Saturday, January 31, 2009

Only Half the Picture

We have wonderful guests here this weekend. All are artists and all are well worth paying attention to. Thursday afternoon, our dear friend, Clarissa Sligh, came by to stay until Sunday. She’s based in Philadelphia and North Carolina and has had quite a distinguished career as an art photographer. She’s done so many different kinds of projects, from documenting Jake in transition, to the Masculinity Project to an exposé on incest, Reframing the Past. She has a great website here. Note that the opening photo was taken by my girl, Ellen Eisenman [ ].

Second on the scene was Zanele Muholi, a new friend and a fantastic young photographer from South Africa. Google her and check her out here. We have had very intense discussions about being a black lesbian in South Africa and the recent history of black feminism here in the US. Her book, Only Half the Picture, published by Michael Stevenson in 2006, can be found on

In the book, Pumia Dineo Gqola writes a moving essay, “Through Zanele Muholi’s eyes: Re/imagining ways of seeing Black lesbians.”

Paying attention to Muholi’s images requires grappling with the competing and nuanced meanings highlighted in the represented subjects. They underline the importance of seeing the agency—life choices, decisions, failures, confusions, discoveries, rejections—of the Black lesbian in the picture…. These images are shaped by, respond to, and sometimes start off from circulating ideas about Black South African lesbians. Muholi’s vision holds challenges for all of us who claim to see (Black) lesbian sexuality regardless of whether we do so in the interest of transformation or oppression…. Muholi’s work contains new insights for all audiences who respond to her invitation to think about lesbian lives seriously” [p. 84].

The series [“Period”] normalizes Black lesbians as women. It positions the most reviled women through images of the most abhorrent—albeit normal—aspect of women’s lives. It shows Black lesbians bleeding uncontrollably, messily and stickily, like the rest of ‘us’. Muholi’s normalizing of Black lesbian sexuality positions it as part of the continuum of women’s sexuality at the same time that she plays with notions of what is ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ [p. 86].

I find myself looking at only bits and pieces of the book at a time because nearly every photo causes me to think and feel so much.

Finally, Gabi Ngcobo showed up after 12AM.  Our weekend guests had all arrived.  More on her in the next entry.

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