On the “A” w/Souleo: South African photographer captures the pain and beauty of LGBT life

Souleo - | 5/7/2015, 5:01 p.m.
South Africa is celebrated for having one of the most advanced constitutions in the world, often cited for its inclusion ...
Festival Founder Mahen Bonetti

South Africa is celebrated for having one of the most advanced constitutions in the world, often cited for its inclusion of protections on the basis of sexual orientation. Yet that has done little to quell physically and sexually violent homophobic attacks. According to the Human Rights Council of South Africa there are up to ten cases of corrective rape every week. South African visual artist, Zanele Muholi understands this situation firsthand as she has documented the experiences of black lesbian and transgender communities in her native land.

Yet, despite these troubling statistics Muholi's work presents a delicate balance of pain and joy. In the exhibition, Zanele Muholi: Isibonelo/Evidence, on view at the Brooklyn Museum are eighty-seven works from various series including Faces and Phases, which addresses the hardships of identifying as LGBTI in South Africa and Weddings, which depicts joy, love, and perseverance.

“You can’t show one-sided images as if it’s all about pain because sometimes we find joy even when some of us are rejected from work and schools,” she said. “As somebody is killed somebody else gets married. So the whole idea of negotiating space on a daily basis means a lot. Also it was important for me to say that these are human begins and members of our communities.”

One of those members is Muholi’s muse tuned mentee, Thembela “Terra” Dick who appears in the exhibition’s Faces and Phases portrait series. “I feel empowered seeing my picture here because I am made into history with this portrait,” said Dick. “It will remain here for other generations to see that we are breaking down doors.”

After modeling for Muholi the two forged a bond. Muholi now mentors Dick, an aspiring documentary filmmaker. Like her mentor, Dick wants to use her images to spark conversations and initiate change for those targeted by homophobia in South Africa. And while she is grateful for her constitution she believes that the battle is more in the heart of the people than the minds.

“South Africa’s constitution is great but you cannot change a man’s mind that lives in poverty in a township. When they see us they don’t see what others see. They will never think the way politicians are thinking. But art can get to the heart of people.”

African Film Festival founder faces uncertain future

Mahen Bonetti is just about ready to call it a wrap. After twenty-five years as the founder and executive director of African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF) she is contemplating retiring from her position.

“After twenty-five years it takes its toll physically and I will be sixty-years-old next year,” she said. “We have retained our independence and that comes at a cost. But if this is to live past me I have to think about the future of the organization. And there are many young people who can do this.”

One look at this year’s robust programming line-up and it’s easy to see why Bonetti is confident in the future of African cinema. Taking place May 6-12, the 22nd annual New York African Film Festival includes fifteen features and thirteen short films from Africa and the Diaspora. Nearly half of those films—including opening night’s film noir Cold Harbour by Carey McKenzie—are by women filmmakers who make up the subtheme “Women in the Media.” Plus according to its film archives the organization has featured over 700 films since launching the festival component in 1993.