WATCH | Zanele Muholi commemorates tavern tragedy a year on in powerful exhibition

23 June 2023 - 06:54
By Anthony Molyneaux

“I could only imagine the number of blankets and the mothers whose bodies were covered with blankets simply because they were mourning the death of their children,” says acclaimed SA artist Zanele Muholi at their new exhibition at Southern Guild gallery in Cape Town.

“Those mothers who gave birth could feel from the inside that something is not right. So this one is to reference that case of Enyobeni, Scenery Park, Eastern Cape. Many families, you know, were mourning the sudden passing of their children. They say as young as 13 years old, found dead in a tavern. It speaks of the need for us to engage or to intervene differently.”

The artworks commemorating the Enyobeni tragedy are only part of the work by Muholi to help the victims. The artist also pledged to build an art centre in the area to discourage children from falling into an alcohol and drug culture.

An image from the exhibition.
Image: Zanele Muholi An image from the exhibition.

“What came into my mind was that if this child had access to proper recreational facilities, if they had access to the arts, if they had something creative that they were doing, there was no reason that they would be in a tavern.

“We're going to build an art centre in that place so that kids will have an option. They won't be influenced by adults who sell alcohol and drugs to our children. So we're going back there with the aim of building an art centre,” Muholi said.

Muholi’s self-titled, autobiographical exhibition is available to view from June 15 to August 17

Occupying the entire gallery, Muholi's works feature several monumental bronze sculptures — the artist’s largest presentation of new sculpture to date — and introduces new photography in the Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness) series. 

The exhibition also encompasses video work as well as a dedicated space for programming and educational outreach.

According to the press release, “Muholi calls for new rites of self-expression, sexuality, mothering and healing that usher in kinder modes of survival in our contemporary world.

“The exhibition is in part a response to South Africa’s ongoing femicide, the stigmatisation of LGBTQI+ communities and the proliferation of gender-based violence, especially the ‘curative’ or ‘corrective’ rape of black lesbians.

“A 13-year-old is not supposed to be in a tavern. A 13-year-old is supposed to be playing with crayons or painting or drawing or maybe joining the dots, not at a tavern. So that case also is one of the cases that affected me the most,” said Muholi.

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