To mark the 65th anniversary of the 1956 Women's March in Pretoria, we're sharing this series of portraits by Zanele Muholi, commissioned by Autograph in 2016/17 to commemorate the struggle for equality, freedom of movement and women’s rights in South Africa and beyond.
In 2017, Autograph invited South African visual activist Zanele Muholi to produce four new works to commemorate the 1956 Women’s March on Pretoria. A pivotal moment in South Africa’s history, thousands of women from different cultural backgrounds united to demonstrate defiantly against repressive Apartheid regimes - and pass laws in particular - which severely restricted people’s movements and human rights.
The photographs form part of Muholi’s celebrated self-portrait series Somnyama Ngonyama, which translates as Hail, the Dark Lioness from isiZulu. Here, Muholi engages their own body in a new visual grammar that champions socially engaged, transgressive modes of self-representation.
For the commission, a series of three portraits are taken at the Old Fort Prison complex at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, where many women were incarcerated for transgressing South Africa’s pass laws during the Apartheid regime. In the fourth work, Muholi is portrayed in Kyoto, Japan, exploring the poetics of identity, transgression and exile in the context of different cultural traditions and locations.
"This artist commission speaks to the women’s struggle in South Africa, and it connects Somnyama Ngonyama directly with black lives and black bodies in incarceration"
These commissions were displayed as part of Muholi's first solo exhibition in London, Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness, at Autograph's gallery and curated by Renée Mussai. The exhibition subsequently toured internationally to 10 venues in the UK, Europe and North America. The works were also first published in our 2017 newspaper to accompany the exhibition.
Muholi said of making the commission: "The 1956 protest was based on women saying, ‘enough is enough; enough with these passbooks’. This artist commission speaks to the women’s struggle in South Africa, and it connects Somnyama Ngonyama directly with black lives and black bodies in incarceration. The images were taken at the Old Fort prison in Johannesburg: a space of confinement, a space where women and other political prisoners were kept during Apartheid, incarcerated for ‘crimes’ such as ignoring pass books, for violating pass laws, or simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. The courtyard in Bayephi III was that spot where the prisoners could relieve themselves, temporarily. The space is haunted, by the knowledge of people being brutalised, of blood being shed: you sense it palpably."
Collectors' Limited Editions of Bayephi III are available from Autograph, generously donated by the artist as a fundraiser to support our arts and learning programmes. Please contact us to enquire. Autograph is a registered charity in England.
was born in Umlazi, Durban, and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. Muholi sees their practice as visual activism to effect social change. Over the past decade, they have become known globally with Faces and Phases, a pioneering portrait photography of South Africa’s LBTQI communities. They co-founded the Forum of Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002, and founded Inkanyiso, in 2009 as a forum for queer visual activist media.
Muholi studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and holds an MFA in Documentary Media from Ryerson University, Toronto. They are an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts Bremen, and has been the recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award and the Carnegie Prize.
Published to accompany Autograph's exhibition Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, this newspaper features images from Muholi's ongoing series Somnyama Ngonyama, alongside 20 texts exploring and responding to this powerful work. Available for £5 in Autograph's online shop.
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Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list