Zanele Muholi - Photo of the artist at home, 2012 - Image via eye

Zanele Muholi/ Zanele Muholi

South Africa 1972

Photography

Zanele Muholi
Zanele Muholi
Female
South Africa
1972

Self-proclaiming her activities as those of a visual activist, Zanele Muholi is a photographer whose body of work examines the lives of black lesbian and gay identities within the borders of contemporary South Africa. Logically, the main focal points of her art are pieces of portraiture, crowned by her Faces and Phases[1] series for which Muholi photographed more than 200 portraits of South Africa’s lesbian community. This project is a great indicator of how Zanele Muholi sees and utilizes her art, best explained by the author herself: The portraits are at once a visual statement and an archive, marking, mapping and preserving an often invisible community for posterity.

In 2012, Richardson Yancey museum presented photograph works strictly made at home
Zanele Muholi – Difficult Love – Image via arttimes.co.za

Fighting for the Gays and Lesbians

Zanele Muholi was born on the 19th of July during the year of 1972, in Umlazi, Durban, and was the youngest of five children. Her parents’ names are Ashwell Tanji Banda Muholi and Bester Muholi. Her first professional contact with photography was the experience of working as a reporter for Behind the Mask, an online magazine that focuses its energy on various LGBT issues in the continent of Africa. Spurred by what she saw as a photographer for the Behind the Mask, Muholi co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (also known as FEW) in 2002. This was imagined to be a black lesbian organization dedicated to providing a safe space for women to meet. As an addition to the Forum, Zanele also documented some horrific stories of the FEW’s clients, reporting numerous hate crimes against the gay community in order to put a stop to the activities known as corrective rape. When she realized that artistic photography would be something that could interest her, Muholi started attending a course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg. This occurred in 2003 and it did not take Zanele a lot of time to establish herself as a talent with a camera – about a year after enrolling in the course, she held her first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The show’s name was Visual Sexuality: Only Half the Picture[2].

Zanele Muholi - Faces and Phases - Image via brooklynmuseumorg
Zanele Muholi – Faces and Phases – Image via brooklynmuseum.org

All the Practices of Zanele Muholi

In the year of 2009, Zanele Muholi received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Media from Ryerson University in Toronto. Her master thesis was based on mapping out the visual history of black lesbian identity and politics in South Africa. Since then, her main creative focus did not change one bit as Zanele still aims to raise public awareness of the gays and lesbians in her country. Furthermore, this author established yet another powerful foundation in 2009 – Muholi realized the Inkanyiso project that year, presenting the world with a non-profit organisation concerned with visual activism. Following a vision statement of Produce. Educate. Disseminate., Inkanyiso is concerned with visual arts and media advocacy for and on behalf of the LGBTI community. In 2010, Zanele co-directed her documentary Difficult Love, expanding her art to the medium of moving images for a change. She also realized a few interesting books along the way. Of course, Zanele did not let her photo-making practice suffer because of her other responsibilities as photography remained her main creative output to date. Besides her collaborations with the aforementioned Johannesburg Art Gallery, Muholi also displayed her photos at such prestigious locations and events as the CCA Lagos in Nigeria, the Kunsthalle Wien Project Space in Vienna, Michael Stevenson in Cape Town, Le Case d’Arte in Milan, Fred Mann in London, Design Indaba Conference in Cape Town and Afrovibes Festival in Amsterdam.

By tirelessly working on both her photographies and foundations, Zanele Muholi made it her personal mission to fight for the rights of LGBT individuals in South Africa

Muholi’s 2016 photograph series of African Cape was a part of Richardson Yancey museum exhibitions
Zanele Muholi – Miss D’vine I, 2007 (Left) / Miss D’vine II, 2007 (Right) – Images via artblast.com

A Crucial Mission

Ultimately, Zanele Muholi did well to describe her role as a visual activist. By working with both her photos and organizations, this author brings crucial light to the importance of black lesbian and gay individuals in South Africa, set out to make a true difference. Her documentations of provocative topics can be observed as a unique journey through the lives of African queer communities and will undoubtedly serve as a valuable record for future generations interested in this particular subject. Muholi’s portraits challenge what can unfortunately rightfully be called a stigma surrounding gays and lesbians in South Africa and we see her as a pivotal figure in debunking the usual rhetoric that homosexuality is un-African in its core.

Zanele Muholi Marten lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.

References:

  1. Muholi, Z., Faces and Phases: Zanele Muholi, Prestel, 2010
  2. Muholi, Z., Zanele Muholi: Only Half the Picture, Real African Publishers, 2011

Featured image: Zanele Muholi – Photo of the artist – Image via eye.on.art
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MusuemSolo/Group
2017tête-à-têteDavid Castillo Gallery, Miami, FL Group
2016Rhona Hoffman 40 Years, Part 2Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL Group
2016Zanele MuholiStevenson, Johannesburg Solo
2016The Quiet Violence Of DreamsStevenson, Johannesburg Group
2016What We Have OverlookedFramer Framed, Amsterdam Group
2016SexStevenson, Johannesburg Group
2016Love You Sugar KaneInstitute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean (ICAIO), Port Louis Group
2016Second-Hand Reading: William Kentridge and Zanele MuholiAmherst College, Amherst, MA Group
2016African Art Against the StateWilliams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA Group
2016tête-à-têteAperture Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2015Zanele MuholiSomnyama Ngonyama, Stevenson, Johannesburg Solo
2015Zanele MuholiYancey Richardson Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2015Zanele Muholi: Vukani riseOpen Eye Gallery, Liverpool Solo
2015Zanele Muholi: Isibonelo EvidenceBrooklyn Museum of Art, New York City, NY Solo
2015Reality of My Surroundings: The Contemporary CollectionNasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC Group
2015Material Matters: New Art from AfricaInstitute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean (ICAIO), Port Louis Group
2015Álbum de FamíliaCentro de Artes Helio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro, RJ Group
2015Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2015Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK), Frankfurt, Main Group
2015I See RainbowsKunstplass, Oslo Group
2015Storylines: Contemporary Art at the GuggenheimSolomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, NY Group
2015Deutsche Börse 2015The Photographers' Gallery, London Group
2015Residual: Traces Of The Black BodyNew Art Exchange, Nottingham Group
2015IrreverentThe Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation, New York City, NY Group
2014Zanele Muholi: Faces And PhasesRyerson Image Centre, Toronto, ON Solo
2014Zanele Muholi: Of Love & LossStevenson, Johannesburg Solo
2014Zanele MuholiWilliams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA Solo
2014Zanele MuholiFaces & Phases And Beulahs, Wentrup, Berlin Solo
2014Undress Your MindWellcome Collection, London Group
2014Bremer Kunstfrühling 2014Gleishalle am Güterbahnhof, Bremen Group
2014Contemporary Art South AfricaYale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CTGroup
2014Precarious ImagingRaw Material Company, Dakar Group
2014Apartheid & AfterHuis Marseille stichting voor fotografie, Amsterdam Group
2014Sound VisionDuke University, Durham, NC Group
2014Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South AfricaYerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA Group
2014Queer and Trans Art-iculationWits Art Museum, Johannesburg Group
2013Zanele Muholi: Fragments D'une Nouvelle HistoireArrêt sur l'image Galerie, Bordeaux Solo
2013Zanele Muholi: Faces & PhasesWidmer + Theodoridis, Zurich Solo
2013Faces and PhasesYancey Richardson Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2013Demonstrations: Performing Being BlackBrundyn + Gonsalves, Cape Town Group
20132013 Carnegie InternationalCarnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburg, PA Group
2013Glyphs: Acts Of InscriptionPitzer Art Galleries, Claremont, CA Group
2013My JoburgLa Maison Rouge, Paris Group
2013Distance and Desire: Encou nters with the African ArchiveThe Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm Group
2013All You Need IS LOVEMori Art Museum, Tokyo Group
2013The Loom of the LandStevenson, Johannesburg Group
2012Zanele MuholiCentro per l´Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, PO Solo
2012Mo(u)rningStevenson, Cape Town Solo
2012The progress of loveThe Menil Collection, Houston, TX Group
2012The Progress of LoveCentre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA,Lagos), Lagos Group
2012tête-à-têteYancey Richardson Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2012Documenta (13)Documenta, Kassel Group
2012Group Show:tête-à-têteRhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL Group
2011Zanele MuholiBlank Projects, Cape Town Solo
2011Zanele MuholiCasa África, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Solo
2011InkanyisoStevenson, Johannesburg Solo
2011what don't you see when you look at me?Extraspazio, Rome Solo
2011what we talk about when we talk about loveStevenson, Cape Town Group
2011Lesbians Seeing LesbiansThe Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation, New York City, NY Group
2011Appropriated LandscapesThe Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm Group
2011Horizon 2Cultuurcentrum Brugge, Bruges Group
2011Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African PhotographyVictoria & Albert MuseumGroup
2011MineIwalewahaus, Bayreuth Group
2010Zanele Muholi: Faces and PhasesFred [London] Ltd., London Solo
2010Zanele Muholi: Indawo YamiStevenson, Cape Town Solo
201029° Bienal de São PauloBienal de Sao Paulo, São Paulo Group
2010Africa Art Now: Contemporary Art From The African DiasporaFred [London] Ltd., London Group
2010This is Our TimeStevenson, Cape Town Group
2010Passages, Afriques Et CreationsFondation Bullukain, Lyon Group
2010Life Less OrdinaryFfotogallery @ Turner House, Penarth, Wales Group
2010Frontières, 8e rencontres photographiques de BamakoCENTRALE for contemporary art, Brussels Group
2010Swallow My PrideBlank Projects, Cape Town Group
2009Faces and PhasesStevenson, Johannesburg Solo
2008ManjeLe Case d'Arte, Milan Solo
2008Being and Faces and phasesStudio d'Arte Raffaelli, Palazzo Wolkenstein, Trento Solo
2007Zanele Muholi: BeingStevenson, Cape Town Solo
2006Zanele Muholi: Only half the pictureStevenson, Cape Town Solo