Here in London and in many other major cities around the world, LGBTQIA communities are celebrated and thriving more than ever thanks to the courageous and persistent activism of their members and allies. Against such a backdrop, it can be easy to forget how lucky we are to live in a moment that allows LGBT+ people to simply be, while suffering from less discrimination, harassment, and outright violence than ever before. In many parts of the world, however, “simply being” as a member of the LGBT+ community is not actually simple at all, the price of embracing authenticity sometimes being one’s life.
At LUXTRA, we care deeply about social justice issues in addition to our commitment to environmental sustainability. Oftentimes, the two are inextricably linked. In this blog post, we celebrate someone who embodies LUXTRA's values of a daring curiosity, progressive thinking and ceaseless optimism: Zanele Muholi.
An acclaimed South African photographer and filmmaker, Zanele is dedicated to documenting South Africa's black LGBT+ communities. Identifying as a visual activist, Zanele has enabled people to witness the love, intimacy, and trauma experienced by members of these communities in an up-close and personal way.
I’m fascinated by LGBT individuals in different spaces,” Zanele shares in a video from Human Rights Watch campaigning against gender violence. “I’ve learned how beautiful this place is, how important our lives are, and why we should preserve a history about our own people, about us.”
Despite South Africa being the first country in the world to constitutionally protect people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation and the first country in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage, members of the LGBT+ community there continue to be the target of violent hate crimes, especially black lesbians in poor townships (BBC). Zanele and other activists have pointed out that when it comes to how the mainstream media portrays the LGBT+ community, it either covers the hate crimes exclusively...or nothing at all. Zanele’s mission is to redress the balance.
You google black lesbians in South Africa…There is nothing that focuses on same-sex love versus these hate crimes...Projecting positivity sometimes can lead to the change. Projecting brutality and violations could lead to further violence. So I think that we need to find a balance in which we project these realities.”
“I’m using visuals as a way of creating awareness. Capturing the moments, those truths and realities, the world will learn about our cultures. I could give you something tangible, and say ‘feel it, this is it, see.’ You’re invited to be in that space even though you were not there.”
While documenting a then lesser-known Limpopo Pride in 2013, Zanele so beautifully explained the importance of communicating that the LGBT+ community has a voice beyond major cities in South Africa: “It’s about saying: I want to be counted in South African history. Claiming my full citizenship, it means that I have to write that part of history.” We couldn’t agree with you more, Zanele, which is why we are writing you into ours.
As a token of our gratitude for Zanele's invaluable contribution to society, we have named our cross body bag the “Zanele."
You can see Zanele’s photography here.
By Jordan Borg