Visual autobiography in Zanele Muhli's digital performance
Jessica Lindiwe Draper (University of KwaZulu-Natal)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the ways in which South African art activist Zanele Muholi unravels gendered expectations through digital performance. By turning to her body to stage such visual autobiographies Muholi deconstructs the historical gaze of hegemonic whiteness which is both gendered and racialized.
Paper long abstract:
The proposed project will use the writing of Laura Mulvey and Mary Douglas to explore the ways in which the art activist Zanele Muholi unravels gendered expectations through digital performance, most recently on Sonyama Ngonyama where she turns the lens back on herself. Delivered via photographs and moving image, I will argue that these performances become elaborate self-portraits, or visual autobiographies. Francis Borzello (1998) considers women's self-portraits to be "painted versions of autobiography" (1998: 19) that allow an artist to control her public presentation. While Borzello speaks specifically of such portraiture in Europe, this interpretation remains apt in a South African context, perhaps even more so considering the complication of the male/female binary by a history of legalised racial segregation. One possible conclusion may be that, by turning to her body to stage these autobiographical performances, the artist begins to deconstruct the historical gaze of hegemonic whiteness, which is both gendered and racialised. This proposed paper will ask whether Muholi's exploration of hybrid identities, and her own body as a contested site, immeasurably complicates the Racialized / gendered / colonial gaze and in doing so, accesses the language of the body in an attempt to subvert patriarchal white privilege and explore the cultural layerings and historical clashes of the South African socio-political context.
African feminisms today: connections and disruptions