After some conversations about race, I was reminded of the work of Zanele Muholi. She is a South African black lesbian photographer who mostly photographs black women loving other black women and her work is AWESOME. Seriously, check out all of it right now.
Her art is not about kink, but it is often about power. The part I want to focus on right now is the 3 piece portrait she made of herself and her white partner, Caitlin.
In this photograph power in incredibly visible. And she described in an interview about this particular photograph how difficult it is to navigate the scars left by apartheid while dating a white partner, how people would hardly see her when she was out with her white partner and how she wanted to express that “people can feel like slaves in our relationships”.
She also made a series where white models played household slaves while black models played masters, and a series about a black slave who experiences desire towards her white mistress. These series were as much about her relationship as about the memory of her mother who worked as a household servant to white people.
Of the hundreds of images by Zanele Muholi that I have seen the image of Zanele and Caitlin was the one that stuck with me the most because what a powerful way to take control of a narrative that was designed to disempower you!
People will try to pretend that a black person and a white person in a relationship are simply a ‘partnership of equals’ and race is no issue, that we can get rid of power imbalances by pretending they are not there. And what Zanele Muholi does is putting the presence of power back on the table, and using the visual language of slavery to make explicit power relations in her present (and consider the myth of the ‘innocence of white women’ as it is presented in a visual of her white partner lying exposed yet on top of her).
And this is her, not being forced into a kinky ‘slaver/slave’ narrative for the white gaze, but chosing to frame her white partner as ‘slaver’ to make explicit power relations in her real life. Taking control of the narrative to make her point.
So fucking awesome.