Reflections on the Self – Five African Women Photographers


Celebrating the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and part of the Southbank Centres WOW festival, Reflections of the Self features five contemporary African women photographers whose work deals with women’s narratives, either through self-portraits or portraits of others: Hélène Amouzou (Togo, Belgium); Majida Khattari (Morocco, France); Zanele Muholi (South Africa); Senayt Samuel (Eritrea, UK); Lolo Veleko (South Africa).

These five photographers engage with issues such as identity, sexuality and displacement, and their work often overturns stereotypical expectations. Ranging from the beauty contest, street fashion and the veiled body in Orientalist paintings, the imagery here acts as a means of thinking about the ‘self’, both as subject and as object. These photographs reveal some of the ways in which women see themselves, and also how the female gaze is informed by the politics of representation. 

Christine Eyene will give an introductory talk on Friday 18 March at 7.30pm in the Blue Room, Spirit Level, Royal Festival Hall. Admission free. 


Hélène Amouzou
(b. 1969)
Hélène created her series of self-portraits, 'Between the Wallpaper and the Wall', during a ten year period whilst she was in limbo in Belgium waiting for her identity papers. Using double-exposure and movement to blur or dissolve her image, she leaves ghostly traces that seem on the verge of disappearance. The empty suitcase, her only prop, becomes a symbol of her precarious existence.


Majida Khattari 
(b. 1966) 
Majida is an artist, designer and photographer who challenges the stigma of the veil and preconceived ideas about Muslim women in France. In her new series, she explores sensuality and desire, evoking Orientalist paintings by artists such as Delacroix, and making visual play with the veiled or partially concealed body.


Zanele Muholi
(b. 1972) 
Zanele's work looks at women's experiences and histories, particularly black lesbian identities. She made the two series of work featured in this show, Miss Lesbian and Being (T)here, in collaboration with photographer Sean Fitzpatrick during her residency in Amsterdam in 2009. Her work has been shown widely across the world and will feature in the V&A's exhibition 'Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography' in the summer of 2011.


Senayt Samuel 
(b. 1969)
Senayt settled in London in 2002 after her family's deportation from Ethiopia. The series in this exhibition consists of self-portraits exploring the notion of framing and mirrored reflections, both as an art-historical device and as a means of defining the parameters of identity. Her work was included in Tate Britain's 2008 exhibition 'Imagine Art After'.

Nontsikelelo Veleko
(b. 1977)
Nontsikelelo currently lives and works in Johannesburg. Her signature images captured alternative youth fashion in contemporary South Africa, focusing on funky and provocative street style. They featured in the 2006 exhibition 'Snap Judgments' in New York, curated by Okwui Enwezor and will be included in 'Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography' at the V&A in 2011. The images in this exhibition give a sense of Veleko's edginess and reveal various facets of femininity.

Tuesday 8 March – Sunday 3 April, Admission free
More info here.

See my top picks for the Festival in general, here.


Image credits, from top:
Nontsikelelo VelekoNonkulukelo, 2003, © Nontsikelelo Veleko 2010, Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery
Hélène Amouzou, Untitled, 2008, © Hélène Amouzou, Courtesy the artist
Majida Khattari, Ninfa Moderna (Modern Nymph), 2010, © Majida Khattari 2010. Courtesy the artist

Zanele Muholi, Being (T)here, 2009, Photographer: Sean Fitzpatrick,© Zanele Muholi 2010 
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town  
Senayt Samuel, ID series,2003, © Senayt Samuel 2010, Courtesy of the artist

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