This article examines visual art produced by lesbian human rights activists in South Africa that is emerging to contest racialized, gendered, and sexualized constructions of Black lesbian vulnerability in mainstream humanitarian advocacy. The article focuses particular attention on the work of South African Black lesbian visual artist and activist Zanele Muholi. Muholi’s photographs grapple with the question of what it means to be a desiring sexual subject—to make oneself vulnerable to the other in the context of an intimate relationship—amid the quotidian reality of anti-lesbian violence. Framing Black lesbian vulnerability to sexual violence in relation to issues of economic precarity, Muholi’s work demonstrates the need to link cultural advocacy to questions of political economy and development. By reframing and recontextualizing Black queer vulnerability in terms of the erotic—or the body’s proximity to both pleasure and pain—Muholi opens up a space for visualizing Black lesbian desire in post-apartheid South Africa. In doing so, her visual activism shows how queer conceptualizations of vulnerability and precarity can provide the basis for the articulation of new sexual rights claims.


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pp. 205-232
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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