IKHONO LASENATALI is a ‘labour of love’ project initiated by Prof. Sir Zanele Muholi who took it upon themselves to celebrate a constituency of young artists based in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. In late 2018, Muholi commissioned 25 emerging artists to interpret photographic images from their ongoing self-portrait series Somnyama Ngonyama, a project that speaks to the social ills associated with politics of race, gender, politics, collectivism, and sexuality faced by South Africans, and others globally. Collectivism and visibility are core values firmly rooted at the heart of the project.
The IKHONO LASENATALI project also commemorates 25 Years of Democracy, with most of the commissioned artists from the ‘born free’ generation. The exhibition showcases the hidden or latent talent of these remarkable KwaZulu-Natal based artists who work in a variety of mediums and utilizing different techniques. These include wood-cut printing, beaded string, oil and acrylic on canvas and paper, pastel on paper and digital imaging, among many others.
For this project 25 artists were invited to reinterpret Muholi’s ongoing photographic series of self portraits, Somnyama Ngonyama. With this in mind, choose a portrait from the exhibition and consider it in the context of its origins as a self portrait, before being reinterpreted as a new portrait by another artist. Examine the subjects’ body language, facial expression and gaze – what do these things tell you about the subject? How do they make you feel as the viewer? Do you feel welcomed or uncomfortable? Are you being ignored or judged? Elaborate on how these questions could be answered differently when the work is viewed as a self portrait and not a portrait.
Muholi has earned global acclaim for their work as a visual activist and documentary photographer. What has been the impact of the invention of photography on portrait painting? Discuss the differences and similarities between painted and photographic portraits, and whether one medium is more effective or ‘authentic’ than the other. What are the positives and negatives in painting from photographs rather than directly from life?
Consider Muholi’s Somnyama Ngonyama series and some of the social ills associated with politics of race, gender, collectivism and sexuality. How do the portraits in the collection in the gallery explore some of these themes? Identify a work that speaks strongly to you about social issues faced by South Africans and globally and discuss how you think the artist has approached this issue in their work.
Imagine that you are writing an article for publication in a newspaper. You have been to the KZNSA Gallery and you are writing about one of the portraits you have seen. Write a critique in which you describe the painting, interpret it, and evaluate it.
DESCRIBE THE PORTRAIT:
Make a list of all the things you see, for example:
what the subject looks like | what the subject is doing | what the subject is wearing | the background of the picture | other objects that appear | how large or small the portrait is | the style in which the artist has worked
Go through the points listed when describing your image, and consider what each point could mean. For example, if the subject is dressed in a particular way, what does that say about them? What could other objects within the frame symbolize or stand for? What can you determine about historical and cultural context, about the artist’s interests and abilities, and about the sitter or person(s) in the portrait?
In your opinion, is the portrait a good work of art? What makes it so – technical skill or a strong concept? Describe what you think makes the portrait successful or not.
Document a day in your life. Capture the people and events, the actions and interactions that occur. How would you use photography to create a story or narrative? Create a series of images that tell your story.
How many images of faces do you see in one day? Where do you see them? Collect a variety of these images and create a class collage. What makes the people similar or different? As we mark 25 years of democracy in South Africa, consider how the faces you see every day may be different from faces your classmates see, and discuss possible reasons for this.
Muholi is driven by activism and their self-proclaimed mission ‘to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond’. Collectivism and visibility are core values firmly rooted at the heart of the IKHONO LASENATALI project. Make a portrait of someone you have encountered who may identify with being overlooked, marginalised or invisible as a consequence of socio-political inequalities in South Africa.