I shared this photograph in class, but it has stuck in my head since then so I decided to use it as a pinboard post to continue thinking on it in conversation with what we’ve seen in the course so far. The photograph is of a “A warrior woman, near Kambole; insisted on fight with the men” according to the caption. While we do not know much other than the location (the date and name of the photographer are unknown), we do know that at some point the photograph was in the hands of an English speaker, and was probably taken by an English photographer as Zambia was part of the English colony of Rhodesia. The photograph belongs to a larger collection entitled “Scenes of daily life of natives and a foreign missionary in Malawi” (where it states that the collection is from not before 1862.
I offer this image as an intervention. We speak so often of gender, feminism, the male gaze etc, but frame it as only a western phenomenon. In contrast to how we imagine gender and the gaze in Lacanian terms, this image fights the ability of the gaze to control the Other. While this women is placed in the context of colonization, and marked as female, she is playing with gender. As such, her very existence and her gender play make it difficult for her to be marked as a sexual object. While the caption present might have been written in jest (I can imagine it with a “haha” at the end), the way her gaze holds the camera, and the expression on her face, accented by the reflective flecks of some kind of powder make the viewer of the photograph look back at her, and see her in a position of power (over her own body and life) even as she exists in a moment of historical oppression.