My city - Joburg: Zanele Muholi

08 August 2010 - 02:00 By Ziphezinhle Msimango

'We live in a space where people say different things and they should be respected'

I am ... a people-oriented person. Ngithanda abantu bo (I love people).

Where were you born? Umlazi, Durban.

Where do you live? Parktown.

Who do you share your house with? My friend Sade Langa.

How did you get into your career? I noticed there weren't many images that spoke to me as a black lesbian; ones that related to my reality and I decided to do something about it. I started taking photos on my own and later trained at the Market photo workshop.

What really happened when the minister of arts and culture, Lulu Xingwana, stormed out of an exhibition featuring black lesbian couples allegedly because she considered your work offensive? It was a group exhibition of women artists and I wasn't there during the walk-out, but when I heard about it I felt I had to say something. We live in a space where people say different things and they should be respected. I may have no right as Zanele to object to what you are about, but I feel my work is in line with what the Constitution states. It saddens me that my work was being censored and, because of that incident, I believe my contemporaries will not be able to get government resources and will go unheard.

How do you think South Africans can overcome homophobia? We need to have sexual orientation as part of our syllabus at school so that our young children, especially boys, do not grow up with a homophobic mindset. There's a tendency towards getting away with homophobia because we see it (homosexuality) as "un-African". This leads to prejudice and violence.

In your work you share your life with your audience. Do you ever feel over-exposed? I'm exposed all the time because I cannot bear the thought of living my life in the closet.

What is the one piece of art that best describes your personality? There is a little bit of me in every work I do.

What would people be surprised to know about you? That I'm a religious person at heart. I don't drink and I don't smoke.

What's the best-kept secret about Joburg? That the only black lesbian organisation in South Africa is based at the former Women's Gaol at Constitution Hill.

What's your most treasured possession? After my body, it has to be my camera. It's my baby and my voice. It's a Pentex MZ50 which I've had it for seven years. I bought it at a pawn shop in Hillbrow for R600.

I'm predisposed to ... my computer. It's where I start and end my day. I go out and work and then come back and look at the pictures I've done during the day.

What's your favourite building in Joburg? The Telkom tower, with the soccer ball.

What's the ugliest thing about Joburg? I hate the fact that at almost every corner there's the stench of urine.

What is the most memorable moment you've had in the city? About 17years ago, walking across Joubert Park to Century Plaza where I lived, I saw street photographers taking pictures of people. I dreamed that one day I would exhibit at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, which I finally did in 2001.

I can't go without ... my black hat to cover my hair. I bought it at a flea market in Italy.

If you inherited R100-million, what would you do with it? I would open a school for women where they could learn photography. It would be a space where women could get a chance to be filmmakers, directors, producers.

If your house caught fire what would you save? My negatives and my hard drive.

What are your creature comforts? I'm in the process of branding some of my favourite pictures onto items around my house. There's one specific photo of me as a six-year-old that I'm thinking of printing onto my pillowcase. When I look at that picture I feel comforted. There's also a rosary my late mother gave me when I was going through hard times.

What are you reading?The Race to Transform,edited by Ashwin Desai, and Dark Continent, My Black Arse by Sihle Khumalo.

My friends and I like ... cameras and talking about photographs and the latest technology.

Perfect happiness is: Being able to feel, love, live and learn.

Have you ever taken public transport in Joburg? When I travel in a taxi, I see potential pictures in motion. Using public transport is vibrant, but it can also be painful. I make sure I never sit in the front seat because when somebody's missing a coin from their change, you have to be accountable for it.

I met my partner ... at a women's arts festival in Knysna.

If money could buy happiness ... it can't, so I can't complete the sentence.

My little black book

Sahib Restaurant, Melville 011 482 6670

I go there at least once a week because the food is great and the service is good. You don't have to stand in a queue or book in advance.

Foto First, Rosebank 011 447 4759

I've bought some of my cameras there and it's where I process most of my work.

Chicken Licken, anywhere

I love Chicken Licken. I know it's junk food and it's unhealthy, but I just love their hotwings. It's not something to be proud of but whenever I travel, I cant wait to get home to those hotwings.

Kauai, OR Tambo International 011 390 2402

They make a great berry smoothy. I go there for food when I'm trying to behave myself by eating healthily.

Constitution Hill, Braamfontein 011 381 3100

This is my second home because the Forum for the Empowerment of Women is based there. This is the organisation I last worked for and I often touch base with them. Constitution Hill is also a place where you can have a meeting without booking a space; you can literally sit on the steps and meet with people.