Artist Zanele Muholi’s Footage of Friend Being Pushed Down Stairs by Airbnb Host Causes Uproar

The assault victim, Sibahle Nkumbi, was in Amsterdam for her friend Zanele Muholi’s debut institutional solo show at the Stedelijk Museum.

Visitors look at pictures of South African photographer Zanele Muholi during the 43rd annual Rencontres d'Arles photography festival in Arles, southern France. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP/GettyImages

An Airbnb host has been charged with attempted manslaughter after shocking footage uploaded by South African artist/activist Zanele Muholi shows the irate Amsterdam man pushing her friend, filmmaker and writer Sibahle Nkumbi, down a flight of stairs.

The incident allegedly began because the artists were late to check out of their accommodation, where they were staying while in Amsterdam for Muholi’s debut museum solo show at the Stedelijk Museum, which opened this past Friday.

The video shows the man pushing Nkumbi forcefully, grunting “out, out, out now,” before the woman tumbles down the steep stairway of the building.

Muholi posted the video of the altercation to her Instagram account, writing, “One of my friends/ Inkanyiso crew members was pushed downstairs by the Airbnb owner where we stayed. He threw their belongings out … for few mins late checkout. “

 

In a statement emailed to artnet News, David King, Airbnb’s director of diversity and belonging, condemned the incident: “Appalling and unconscionable behavior against members of our community runs counter to everything Airbnb stands for. Our CEO Brian Chesky and I are reaching out to the affected guests. We will take the strongest actions we can against such abhorrent conduct, including banning people for life from our platform and assisting law enforcement with their investigation and potential prosecution. Nobody should ever be treated like this and it will not be tolerated.”

In a video interview she did with Amsterdam-based journalist Kevin Roberson, Nkumbi explains that her assailant was the husband of the Airbnb apartment owner who was hosting the artists.

The incident is somewhat ironic given the subject matter of Muholi’s Stedelijk Museum show. The artist and activist introduced a new series of self-portraits, which she presented alongside her arresting photographic depictions of the black LGBTQI community in South Africa. Muholi’s work deals us an insider’s perspective, offering up powerful imagery that confronts the complex politics of identity in the face of widespread discrimination and abuse.

Following the disturbing episode, Nkumbi was hospitalized, suffering a concussion and painful bruising to her body and face. In the video interview posted to YouTube, Nkumbi describes the events leading up to the attack, revealing her suspicions that her assault was racially motivated.

“We knew that we were late, and we heard a bell ring,” she described, recounting how the female host had been upset that the party was late to check out of their accommodation. Upon being asked for a few more minutes to get themselves together, the woman returned with her husband, says Nkumbi, who was angry. “He was banging the door, screaming ‘Open up!’ We opened the door, and this guy was extremely emotional. And I tried to ask him, ‘Why are you being so emotional? We are leaving,” she said.

Nkumbi recounts how the man went on to verbally abuse the group, allegedly referring to them as “You People,” and telling them to leave immediately, saying “This is not Africa.”

Although the man has been arrested and charged with attempted manslaughter, Nkumbi expressed her doubts in the video that justice will truly be served, fearing institutional racial bias, which might already have been revealed by the portrayal of the victim in media coverage of the events. “They said I was arguing with him, when I wasn’t; I was clearly trying to reason with him so that we could leave in peace,” she said.

Speaking passionately about the nature of racial attacks, Nkumbi explained, “The perpetrator always makes sure they say something vague so that if it leads to legal issues they can’t prove anything, but his body language, his facial expression, the way that he was looking at us, it was not a matter of you looking at another human.”

In response to those who might question the racial motivations behind the attack, she said “I guarantee you if this had been a white person, it would have turned out differently.”

A resigned Nkumbi then finishes up the video by asking “When will we wake up? People are people.”

Watch the full interview with Sibahle Nkumbi below.


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