Muholi, Zanele


South African, b. 1972; lives in Umbumbulu, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Zanele Muholi describes themself as a “visual activist.” Their work draws attention to the invisibility and intolerance that is often felt by Black South African lesbians and transgender individuals. Although the country’s Constitution ensures equality to all citizens and allows same-sex marriages, these policies are rarely enforced and protected by government officials. With great subtlety and tenderness, Muholi’s black-and-white photographs in Faces and Phases (2006–ongoing) portray black LGBTQIA+ people from different places and professions. Adopting a serial-portrait format, Muholi has created a “wall of fame” to honor those individuals that their society denigrates as a faceless group.

Muholi’s visual activism deploys potent strategies of subversion, and often engages directly with the charged colonial archive of “ethnographic” imagery. Their striking portrait of Miss D’vine II depicts a defiant figure gracefully posing in the outskirts of a South African township, the detritus of city living strewn around her feet—clad in blood-red stilettos. Other portraits on display from the series Beulahs such as Ms Le Sishi I, and Miss D’vine I, picture Muholi’s participants naked to the waist, their Zulu beadwork referencing pictorial traditions associated with visual anthropology and eroticizing accessories derived from pop culture. Part of artist’s ongoing mission to "re-write a Black queer and trans visual history of South Africa”, they transgress and deflate the power of such oppressive, historical imagery through subversive gender queering and affirmative, self-possessed portraiture.

Artworks by Muholi, Zanele

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more.