SNAPSHOTS: Project X
For the South African artist Zanele Muholi, art is inextricably linked
with activism. Muholi was born in 1972 in Umlazi, South Africa and
as someone who eshews gender pronouns, has spent years working
to empower both women and the LGBTQI community in South Africa.
They offer visual arts training for amateurs through organizations
like Inkanyiso, a collective for queer activism that they founded in
2006. When Muholi was invited to be the artist-in-residence at the
Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) in 2018, it made sense that they
chose to spend their time in the city empowering the community.
Muholi came up with the idea for the Women’s Mobile Museum,
a project that would provide ten Philadelphia-based women with
a paid stipend for a year so they could create their own series of
photographs. (Each participant was paid for 14 hours of work a week.)
Lori Waselchuk, exhibitions and programs coordinator at PPAC, says
the ten women represent as broad a segment of the community as
possible. The participants include Shashta Bady, an aspiring scientist;
Davelle Barnes, a meme curator, film ethnographer, social poet and
former U.S. Army sergeant; Iris Maldonado, a Reiki practitioner; and
Carrie Anne Shimborski, an abstract painter, among others.
Like Muholi, Waselchuk agrees that art is an agent of change. “Art
is critical when talking about making society more just, less racist, less
homophobic and less misogynist,” she says. “Art is [Muholi’s] tool, and
they gave it to these women.”
The ten women started to take photographs in February 2018,
guided by six weeks of workshops with Muholi. In September of the
same year, an exhibition of their work, which included an array of
high-quality portraiture, began traveling around the Philadelphia area.
The exhibit started at the Juniata Park Boys and Girls Club, traveled
to Dixon House, a diversified community center, and after a stint at
the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, it closes at PPAC on March
The exhibition not only expanded the participating artists’ résumés,
it also brought their work to a community that isn’t usually exposed
to visual art. For example, at the Juniata Park Boys and Girls Club, the
ten participants learned from the president of the St. Lucy Day School
for Children with Visual Impairments how to make their photographs
accessible to the visually impaired. And at Dixon House, they reached
many first-time visitors to fine-art exhibitions.
Although the project was resoundingly successful, Waselchuk is
not sure when PPAC will launch a second initiative in the community.
However, she maintains that “[art] is the first step for true change in
social and economic inequalities.” In other words, photographers, pick
up your cameras and make work that speaks to your own struggle. EDU
The Women’s Mobile Museum delivers powerful portraiture to Philadelphia communities.
by BRIENNE WALSH
LEFT: A photo by one
of the participating
artists in the Women’s
Mobile Museum, Afaq.
BELOW: A group shot
of the Women’s Mobile