Photo series participant, Lerato Dumse through her phases. Photo: Olwethu Boso

Photo series participant, Lerato Dumse through her phases.                               Photo: Olwethu Boso

Visual artist and photographer Zanele Muholi’s new exhibition, Faces and Phases, centered around queer bodies opened on Thursday at the Stevenson Gallery in Johannesburg.

The exhibition opening comes two days after South Africa marked a decade since the introduction of the Civil Union Bill in the National Assembly. The bill legalised same-sex marriage and civil partnership throughout South Africa.

“It feels like I’m a part of something great, part of history even though at the time I didn’t know it would be this big,” said Shirley Ndaba, a participant who has been documented by Muholi over the past ten years as part of the Faces and Phases project.

Muholi admitted that working on a series of this magnitude can be emotionally and physically exhausting but is humbled by the participants as they have taken risks with this project. Some come from oppressive African countries when it comes to gender and sexual rights and have dedicated their faces and time to the series.

The internationally-award winning photographer is currently focused in producing follow-up photos of her participants as they encounter the new phases and progress in their lives.

Muholi marks the course of each of her participants’ growth by exhibiting the initial portraits alongside those recently taken, allowing for a continuation in the storytelling of her participants – as she refers to them – lives and journeys. The photographs feel confrontational, the subjects stare into the eyes of the viewer as though to ask, “why are you looking at me?”

“‘Faces’ express the person, and ‘Phases’ signify the transition from one stage of sexuality or gender expression and experience to another. ‘Faces’ is also about the face-to-face confrontation between myself as the photographer/activist and the many lesbians, women and transwomen and transmen I have interacted with from different places,” said Muholi.