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          Zanele Muholi, Catherine Opie, Britt Salvesen
          'The Unflinching Gaze: The Image, The Archive, and the Aesthetics of Resistance' – A panel discussion featuring Zanele Muholi, Catherine Opie and Britt Salvesen

          9 May 2024 (4 min) read

          “When I see Black people photographed by other people, they never look back. The way I look back, I’m looking back consciously and I’m speaking directly to the person who’s gazing at me.” - Zanele Muholi, 2024

          To mark the LA opening of Zanele Muholi’s solo exhibition ZANELE MUHOLI, Southern Guild will host a panel discussion featuring Muholi, artist Catherine Opie and LACMA curator and head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Prints and Drawings Department, Britt Salvesen. The event will take place on 21 May between 11am and 12.30pm at Southern Guild Los Angeles.

          The discussion will explore both artists' profound contributions to LGBTQIA+ representation and activism, and the ways in which media, objects, memory, ritual and imagination contribute towards collective knowledge production. Moving beyond mere questions of representation and identity, the conversation will look at the marginalised gaze as an oppositional way of seeing, reframing the lens to encompass pluralities of perspective and queer experience.

          The phrase “the unflinching gaze” was popularised by the renowned poet and scholar Tony Harrison, whose work is preoccupied with the representation of suffering. He argues that the “unflinching gaze” – the continuous observation of reality – must be maintained, even in the face of atrocities. The question that haunts any work confronting profound suffering is the im/possibility of representation: in other words, the need to find a form for what appears indescribable, or beyond representation.

          Both Muholi and Opie reflect a resonant, intertextual relationship to their image-making approaches. Playing at the boundaries of photographic journalism, portraiture and performance and positioning themselves on either end of the lens in a manner that challenges power both in the centre and at the margins, they recontextualise hierarchies of knowledge production. This ‘unflinching gaze’ also speaks to matters of agency and subjectivity.

          Sidestepping these simplistic ways of historically situating representations of under/misrepresented communities and moving beyond mere questions of representation and identity, this panel will be a meditation on the interplay between the meaning of art and the ways we exist in the world. Rather than tethering the artistic identity to an essentialised mode of looking, in the domineering sense that “gaze” has typically connoted—as in film theorist Laura Mulvey’s 1975 explication of “male gaze"—the unflinching gaze is also a heuristic approach to visuality. Specifically, the marginalised gaze is an oppositional way of seeing, a rebellious looking in response to heteronormative, gender-normative and anti-Black attempts to stifle and eliminate life on the margins —a deliberate challenge to current social-political-aesthetic reality.

          This event will also celebrate the launch of Aperture’s new book, Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama, Volume II and will include a book signing of this publication, as well as ZANELE MUHOLI (the brand-new monograph recently published by Southern Guild) and Muholi’s Connect the Dots.

          Please email [email protected] to RSVP.

          ABOUT Britt Salvesen

          Britt Salvesen joined LACMA in October 2009 as curator and head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Prints and Drawings Department. Previously, she was director and chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP), University of Arizona. Prior to joining CCP, Salvesen was associate curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Milwaukee Art Museum and associate editor of scholarly publications at the Art Institute of Chicago. She received her MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art and her PhD from the University of Chicago.

          ABOUT Catherine Opie

          Catherine Opie (b. 1961, Sandusky, OH), is an artist working with photography, film, collage, and ceramics. For over thirty years, Catherine Opie has captured often overlooked aspects of contemporary American life and culture. One of the most important photographers of her generation, her subjects have included early seminal portraits of the LGBTQ+ community, the architecture of Los Angeles’ freeway system, mansions in Beverly Hills, Midwestern icehouses, high school football players, California surfers, and abstract landscapes of National Parks, among others. She was a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow recipient and the Robert Mapplethorpe Resident in Photography at the American Academy in Rome for 2021. Opie’s work has been exhibited extensively throughout the United States and abroad and is held in over 50 major collections throughout the world. Her first monograph, “Catherine Opie”, was recently published by Phaidon. Opie received a B.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute, and an M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts in 1988, and lives and works in Los Angeles. Opie was a professor of photography at UCLA for 25 years.


          Opening at Southern Guild’s Los Angeles gallery, 747 N Western Ave on May 18, 2024, ZANELE MUHOLI is a wide-ranging solo exhibition produced by the South African visual activist across geographies, timelines and mediums. Bronze sculptural monuments and self-portraits from the acclaimed Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness) series, are retrospectively shown alongside select works from their renowned archive of imagery, including the series Being (T)here Amsterdam (2009), Massa and Minah (2008-ongoing) and Only Half the Picture (2002-06).

          With self-portraiture as its predominant mode, ZANELE MUHOLI presents a personal reckoning with themes such as sexual pleasure and freedom, inherited taboos around female genitalia and biological processes, gender-based violence and the resultant trauma, pain and loss, sexual rights and biomedical education.