South African photographer Zanele Muholi brings images from ‘Faces and Phases,’ photographs of lesbian women, to WCMA.
South African photographer Zanele Muholi brings images from ‘Faces and Phases,’ photographs of lesbian women, to WCMA. (Photos by Zanele Muholi / Courtesy of WCMA)

Berkshire Eagle

Beautiful women look back at me, lithe and straight. Zanele Muholi says, they fill the room with their presence.

Not all are still alive.

They are her friends, they are colleagues, they are women she knows in her home city. They are women she has met in the afternoon to photograph them outside in a park or on a sidewalk, and she felt them looking into her eyes as she pressed the shutter.

And she has lost friends. Women in South Africa can die for falling in love. Some are killed outright, and some die from assaults inflicted to "teach" them not to be gay.

I left that conversation humbled and shaken. And I wrote that night to many friends of mine because I felt thankful that I could -- that they are solidly there up the mountain or at the other end of the phone.

It shakes me, my friends, and I think of you.

You taught me to can apple sauce. You were the first person I told, the morning my grandmother died in her sleep. You slept with your head on my shoulder the night we volunteered at the New Hampshire polls. I flew down to help you move, and I held you when you cried, and you held me and let me talk myself out when my uncle was ill and would not recover. You walked with me in the September woods the summer my first boyfriend broke up with me. I made you scones with cream for your birthday. You danced with me on New Years Eve. You took me in after a late night drive, in midsummer, when I was tired to dizziness, and I brought you blueberries, and we talked into the small hours.


Advertisement

I love you, and I know that in this country, too, you have been hurt because of who you love. I also know the limits of what I know. I'm an ally, and you are my people. I can't imagine living in a country where I might wake up one morning to find my people hurt -- or gone.

So on this holiday to love, I hold you in mind.