LIFESTYLE
26/09/2017 13:09 SAST | Updated 10/10/2017 12:58 SAST

Inside The World of Zanele Muholi's Brave Beauties

Take a look behind the creation of the artist's game-changing new images.

Brave Beauties participants after a visit to Gender Dynamix offices in Cape Town. Back row: L-R Progress Seloate, Kim Monoto, Mellisa Mbambo, Roxy Dlamini, Miss Tee Menu. Front row: L-R Katiso Kgope, Ricki Kgositau (GDX Director), Kat Serame, Yaya Mavundla and Dimpho Tsotetsi.
Zanele Muholi / Inkanyiso
Brave Beauties participants after a visit to Gender Dynamix offices in Cape Town. Back row: L-R Progress Seloate, Kim Monoto, Mellisa Mbambo, Roxy Dlamini, Miss Tee Menu. Front row: L-R Katiso Kgope, Ricki Kgositau (GDX Director), Kat Serame, Yaya Mavundla and Dimpho Tsotetsi.

Do you remember the first time you stepped into an art gallery? For Durban-born Zama Shange her first time was a trip to attend the opening night of visual activist Zanele Muholi's Brave Beauties series of images, and at the invitation of Muholi herself, no less.

"I was blown away by the beauty, the space, the pure white walls, the welcoming staff – when you look at them, you see art." Shange writes in a moving Inkanyiso blog post.

"This was a dream to me: as soon as you enter the gallery, you are greeted by a large book shelf filled with treasures, books by internationally celebrated artists and activists, and right at the front several of Muholi's books are the centre of attention. Immediately I felt so proud and humbled, to be part of history in the making."

Brave Beauties has been called one of Muholi's most important works. The exhibition documents nine gender non-binary, and transwomen in black and white, Muholi's signature. The works have become an irretrievable part of her contribution to the telling of her community's stories.

Muholi spoke recently about the process of making the work, and the reason it came into being.

"I always think to myself, if you don't see images of your community, you have to create them. I can't be dependent on other people to do it for us.' It is a continuing resistance 'because we cannot be denied existence. This is about our lives, and if queer history, trans history, if politics of blackness and self-representation are so key in our lives, we just cannot sit down and not document and bring it forth."

Shange explains the journey of getting to the opening, currently showing at Cape Town's Stevenson Gallery, where she would come to document the journeys of the nine participants.

When Shange received a personal invite from the renowned artist, she was stunned.

"...And for a good ten minutes I did not know how to respond. My personal invitation from Muholi: not just any visual activist but THE worldwide excelling, breaking-all-barriers visual activist. As she would say nonchalantly, Google me."

The nine brave beauties arrived minutes apart from one another at the airport, "you could swear they just walked out of a Vogue magazine shoot, and the airport floor was their runways."

Shange met Muholi herself soon afterward when the Beauties were shot at Cape Town's Roodebloem studios.

"Magic was created at the studio. The ladies were flawlessly beautiful, the production crew was dedicated and truly professional; this is was serious work. History was made on this day."

Finally, the following day, Shange visits the gallery, and records the experience in wonderful detail.

Read Shange's full account here.