Zanele Muholi

The New York based Human Rights Watch has released a short film exploring the work of award-winning South African lesbian photographer and activist Zanele Muholi to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

Muholi, who describes herself as a “visual activist,” has spent years documenting the lives of black lesbians and transgender people in South Africa. “We live in fear,” Muholi said. “And what are we doing about it? You have to document. You are forced to document.”

The film was made as a collaboration between Muholi and filmmakers Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall – the directors of the award-winning documentary Call Me Kuchu, which tells the story of the last year in the life of Ugandan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) activist David Kato.

The video is dedicated to the memory of Duduzile Zozo, who was brutally raped and murdered in Thokoza, Gauteng Province in South Africa on June 30, 2013.

“Zanele Muholi embodies the strength and resilience of a community that is particularly vulnerable to gender violence,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a global campaign originating in 1991, provides an opportunity to show solidarity in the fight to end violence against women. South Africa has a high rate of gender-based violence. Despite the promise in the constitution of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, hate-crimes against lesbians, including rape and murder, remain a scourge.

“If I wait for someone to validate my existence it will mean that I am shortchanging myself,” Muholi said. “You Google black lesbians in South Africa, you’ll see what you see there. There is nothing that focuses on same-sex love versus these hate crimes.”

In 2013, the National Intervention Task Team on Gender and Sexual-Orientation-Based Violence Perpetrated Against LGBTI Persons has made significant progress in setting up a monitoring system in South Africa to track cases of violence against LGBT people through the criminal justice system. But challenges remain in bringing those responsible for gender violence to justice, Human Rights Watch said.

Senior government officials, including South African President Jacob Zuma, should use the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence to publicly condemn gender-based violence, including homophobic and transphobic violence, Human Rights Watch said. The top-level officials should ensure that those responsible for such violence are brought to justice.

Muholi won the Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the 2013 Carnegie International, at the Carnegie Museum of Art, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Muholi was recently made honorary professor of the University of the Arts/Hochschule für Künste Bremen. She won the Index on Censorship – Freedom of Expression art award in London in March, and the Mbokodo Award for Creative Photography in August. Muholi is also being honored with a prestigious Prince Claus Award, to be presented in Amsterdam on December 11.

“The significance of Muholi’s work is her ability to turn anger into creativity and insist on dignity and resilience in the face of hatred and violence,” Reid said.

Watch the video on Muholi’s work below.

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