About the Fair

Nov 17-21, 2021
Hall 11.2, Cologne-Deutz Exhibition Centre, Cologne, Germany

Stand B15

Cologne­—Pearl Lam Galleries is delighted to announce its participation in the 55th edition of Art Cologne. As the oldest art fair in the world, Art Cologne is one of the most important industry meeting points for galleries and institutions in Germany and has been an occasion for generations of art collectors to discover, collect, exchange ideas, and establish new contacts. 

On view is a selection of artworks by South Africa-based artist Zanele Muholi in collaboration with Muholi Arts Project (BaMu). Zanele Muholi is a photographer based in Durban. They first studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newton, Johannesburg and completed their Master’s Degree in Documentary Media at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada in 2009. Presented as a photographic archive is a collection of self-portraits from the Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness) series that the artist has been working on since 2012. These autobiographic and highly personal portraits express, in the artist’s own words, “the journey, self-image, and possibilities of a black person in today’s global society.” A selection of paintings and beadwork related to the photographs will also be on view to provide a broader perspective for understanding Muholi’s multifaceted art practice.

The space features over twenty staged photographs of Muholi’s portraits with the photographer taking on a dualistic role of subject and participant. Besides their variety of poses and costumes, Muholi also utilizes daily objects drawn from their immediate environment. As a long-time photographer, Muholi has always observed how different people present themselves in front of the camera. In their Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness) series, the artist invites the viewer to probe the power relations and voyeurism amongst the subject, the photographer, and the beholder. This series speaks to the politics of representation and black pride. Muholi believes that each entity is entitled to his/her/their right of representation and to be proud of who they are. The artist asserts the need “for this black face to be recognized as belonging to a sensible, thinking being in their own right.”

Taking advantage of a busy travel schedule, Muholi realized these in situ self-portraits in different locations around the world. A lot of considerations went into the making of the work beforehand; for each body, the posture was calculated with the overall chiaroscuro effect in mind. Muholi’s work focuses on topics that make the viewer uneasy, including identity politics aimed at undoing racism. This series depicts a celebration of black beauty and ownership in ways that have never been broached in visual history. Muholi said, “Experimenting with different characters and archetypes, I have portrayed myself in highly stylized fashion using the performative and expressive language.”

As a footnote, Bester, one of the photographs on display, is in honour of Muholi’s late mother, Bester Muholi, who worked as a domestic worker and experienced a lot of hardship during apartheid. In the photographs on display, it is impossible to escape from Muholi’s forceful and piercing gaze. No doubt the gaze sets a difficult atmosphere and creates an uncomfortable dialogue with the audience. The black face and its details become the focal point forcing viewers to question their sense of lack when being confronted by an artificial “exoticized” other. Such visual estrangement, therefore, proposes new questions on where the power of interpretation lies in an open representational process.

Selected works