Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi (born 1972 in Umlazi, Durban) lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Zanele Muholi sees her artistic practice as “visual activism”, thereby ascribing to her images explicit and causal power to effect change. For over a decade she has documented black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’s lives in various townships in South Africa. Responding to the continuing discrimination and violence faced by the LGBTI community, in 2006 Muholi embarked on an ongoing project, Faces and Phases, in which she depicts black lesbian and transgender individuals. These arresting portraits are part of Muholi’s contribution towards a more democratic and representative South African homosexual history. Through this positive imagery, Muholi hopes to offset the stigma and negativity attached to queer identity in African society.

In her most recent series Somnyama Ngonyama (Zulu for: hail the black lioness) Muholi stages herself in multiple identities for the camera. A wealth of critical questions about social injustice and the representation of the “black body in the photographic archive as a whole” converge in every portrait from Somnyama Ngonyama, as critic Tymon Smith states. Among other things, Muholi devotes her attention to “blackfacing”, in which white actors in grotesque makeup performed African-American roles in 19th and 20th century minstrel theater productions in North America; its visual aftershocks are also found, for instance, in staged depictions of black physicality in colonial travel literature.

Muholi was responsible for the South African pavilion in the 55th Venice Biennale (2013) and took part in documenta 13, Kassel (2013) and the Sao Paolo Biennial (2010).

Recently Muholi has been invited to present solo exhibitions at the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. She previously had numerous solo and group shows in institutions such as the Akershus Kunstsenter, Lillestrom; Schwules Museum, Berlin; Kunsthalle Wien project space, Vienna; Wits Art Museum and Goethe Institut, Johannesburg; Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul; Kunsthal Rotterdam, Rotterdam; Tate Liverpool, UK; Guggenheim, New York; Tate Modern, London; Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin; BOZAR, Brussels, and many others.

Muholi has been the recipient of honors including the Prince Claus Award and the Carnegie Fine Prize. Her works are represented in numerous museums and collections: Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Guggenheim, New York; Margulies Collection, Miami; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York; South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Tate Modern, London, and others.

»Thulile II, Umlazi, Durban«, 2016<br />Silver gelatin print, 50 x 41 cm<br />