Zanele Muholi. Image via Facebook

SA visual activist challenges stereotypes with new exhibition

South African visual activist and highly acclaimed photographer Zanele Muholi is challenging the way we see and experience art and rewriting visual history in an upcoming exhibition.


Zanele Muholi. Image via Facebook

The queer, non-binary activist (who uses the pronouns they/them/their) pointedly addresses race, bigotry, prejudice, the politics of pigment, and violence in the exhibition.

Through the medium of photography, they document the disconnect at the heart of South African society with bold and confrontational works that explore themes of blackness to intimate, tender pieces that highlight LGBTQIA+ people of color.

Empowering the LGBTQIA+ community, celebrating the beauty of black skin

Zanele Muholi has used film and photography as a tool to elevate Black LGBTI people in South Africa since the early 2000s, documenting and celebrating the lives of South Africa’s black lesbian, gay, trans, queer, and intersex communities and elevating black LGBTI people in South Africa.

Muholi describes themself as a visual activist. From the early 2000s, they have documented and celebrated the lives of South Africa’s black lesbian, gay, trans, queer, and intersex communities.

Muholi has done several key series of works, including Only Half the Picture, which features intense images alluding to traumatic events and pieces showing moments of love and intimacy. The dramatic photographs in this series alluded to the empty promises of equality made by South Africa’s 1996 constitution and how the LGBTQIA+ community remains a target for prejudice and violence.

Brave Beauties celebrates empowered non-binary people and trans women, as well as couples that challenge stereotypes and taboos. In her on-going series, Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness), Muholi turns the camera on themselves to explore Eurocentrism, labour, racism, and sexual politics through powerful and reflective images.

Faces and Phases exhibition at the Tate Modern

Zanele Muholi will present an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London on 5 November titled Faces and Phases, which will be the first major UK survey of Muholi’s work. The exhibition will feature over 260 photographs that will include black and white portraits of lesbian, bi, trans, and gender-nonconforming bodies.

On speaking about the upcoming survey and the series, Muholi says they “use the images they make to raise awareness about “the truths and realities” of their participants, who are Black LGBTI people in South Africa.”

“Talking about photography specifically and the need to capture images of ourselves, of our lives, is not necessarily about beauty per se, it’s about the need of documenting realities of people who deserve to be heard, who deserve to be seen and whose lives are often excluded as part of the Canon,” Muholi says.

“I want people to understand our existence and presence, to say, ‘we exist’. So that existence comes with a visibility that is positive.”

The exhibition in November will be organised by the Tate Modern in collaboration with the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, Gropius Bau, Berlin and Bildmuseet at Umeå University.

Also read: Deepest Darkest: A boutique art gallery in Cape Town reinvents itself