press release

Opening Thursday 4 June, 6-8pm

A prominent activist in empowerment organisations, Zanele Muholi (born 1972) is concerned with the intimate portrayal of the lives of black lesbian women in South Africa. Of this new body of colour and black-and-white work, she writes:

Being is an exploration of our existence and our resistance as lesbians/women loving women, as black women living our intersecting identities in a country that claims equality for all within the LGBTI community and beyond. The work is aimed at erasing the stigmatisation of our sexualities as 'unAfrican', even as our very existence disrupts dominant (hetero)sexualities, patriarchies and oppressions that were not of our own making. Since slavery and colonialism, images of us African women have been used to reproduce heterosexuality and white patriarchy, and these systems of power have so organised our everyday lives that it is difficult to visualise ourselves as we actually are in our respective communities.

I have the choice to portray my community in a manner that will turn us once again into a commodity to be consumed by the outside world, or to create a body of meaning that is welcomed by us as a community of queer black women. I choose the latter path, because it is through capturing the visual pleasures and erotica of my community that our being comes into focus, into community and national consciousness. And it is through seeing ourselves as we find love, laughter, joy that we can sustain our strength and regain our sanity as we move into a future that is sadly still filled with insecurities.

Youssef Nabil: Sleep in my arms Click here to view works

Born in Cairo in 1972, Youssef Nabil has always been fascinated with the glamour and style of early Egyptian cinema and the hand-coloured family portraits that still adorn most living rooms in Cairo. His work was influenced by his close friendship with the legendary Egyptian-Armenian photographer Van Leo, who is celebrated for his glamorous studio portraits of famous Egyptian actresses of the 1950s and 60s. Nabil has also worked as an assistant to David LaChapelle in New York and Mario Testino in Paris.

Nabil's images have a cinematic quality and explore the interior and exterior worlds of drama, beauty, glamour, sexuality and identity. In Sleep in my arms, Nabil photographs young men in intimate situations, asleep or on the threshold of sleep, interspersed with self-portraits, and sets up dreamlike moments that are imbued with a brooding sexuality.

Rotimi Fani-Kayodé: Bodies of Experience Click here to view works

Rotimi Fani-Kayodé (1955-1989) is considered to be one of the most influential black photographers of the 20th century. Michael Stevenson presents an overview of his large-scale colour work in association with Autograph ABP, London. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, of Yoruba descent, Fani-Kayodé was at the forefront of destabilising the stereotypical view of Africa and 'Africanness'. He wrote:

Both aesthetically and ethically I seek to translate my rage and my desire into new images which will undermine conventional perceptions and which may reveal hidden worlds. Many of the images are seen as sexually explicit - or, more precisely, homosexually explicit. I make my pictures homosexual on purpose. Black men from the Third World have not previously revealed either to their own people or to the West a certain shocking fact: they can desire each other.

Side Gallery: Athi-Patra Ruga : She's Dancing for the Rain with her Hand in the Toaster Click here to view works

In the side gallery, Michael Stevenson is pleased to present She's Dancing for the Rain with her Hand in the Toaster, Athi Patra-Ruga's first gallery exhibition. Besides being active as an artist, Ruga owns a clothing label, Just Nje/Amper Couture, which only produces unique pieces. Born in 1984 and trained as a fashion designer, Ruga's debut collection Die Naai Masjien was showcased as a nominee in the Elle New Talent Show at 2004 South African Fashion Week. Since then, the radical nature of his work has caused it to slowly drift away from the fashion industry into a more elusive realm.

At Michael Stevenson, an installation of suspended garments will form the centre of the exhibition. The clothes, designed by Ruga, carry names such as Get in the car, I am a friend of your mother, suggesting an undercurrent of abuse. Selected pieces will be drenched in rapeseed (canola) oil, an ordinary cooking ingredient but also commonly used as a substitute for lubricant in working-class communities. The darkness of these dripping outfits is offset by frivolous details, such as zebra-striped gold lamé frills that recall the late Brenda Fassie's iconic aesthetic.

only in german

Zanele Muholi / Youssef Nabil / Rotimi Fani-Kayode
Side Gallery: Athi-Patra Ruga