Zanele Muholi

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Art Photography

Photographer Zanele Muholi Finds Empowerment Through Bold Black-and-White Portraiture

September 12, 2022

Grace Ebert

“Isiqhaza” (June 10, 2018, Philadelphia). All images © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of African Artists’ Foundation, shared with permission

The striking portraits of South African photographer and activist Zanele Muholi (previously) are easily recognizable. Shot in stark black-and-white, the images utilize heavy contrast and center on single subjects dressed in elaborate garments. These wearables are sculptural in construction and made from commonplace objects: clothespins are strung together as a necklace, dried grasses splay outward like the brim of a hat, and rolls of toilet paper cascade over a figure’s shoulders.

Muholi often works in self-portraiture and is known for photographing Black queer subjects as a way to explore the radical nature of identity and as a means of celebration and respect. “The work that I produce is meant to be for every person,” they say in an interview. “It could be a teacher. It could be a mother whose child is queer and wants to have a reference point to show their kids and say that you are not alone. And it could be for LGBTI people themselves to understand their worthiness.” Muholi views all of their works as collaborations with the sitters, who often gaze at the camera with direct, empowered expressions.

Many of the photos shown here are part of the group exhibition Dig Where You Stand, which is on view through October 9 at Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art in Tamale, Ghana. A project of African Artists’ Foundation, the group show engages with questions of decolonization and restitution and will travel to Lagos, Lusanga, and Lisbon in the coming months. Until then, find more from Muholi on Instagram.

 

“Sine II” (Melbourne)

“Bester” (May 2, 2019, New York)

Left: “Sine X” (March 17, 2020, Melbourne). Right: “Muzane I” (May 15, 2019, London)

Detail of “Jamile Face” (May 2, 2019, New York)

“Wenzeni” (2019)

Left: “Vika IV” (September 11, 2019, Cape Town). Right: “Aphelile X” (April 11, 2020, Durban)

“Vika III” (September 11, 2019, Cape Town”

 

 



Photography

Quotidian Objects Enrich Striking Black and White Self-Portraits in a New Monograph by Zanele Muholi

April 29, 2019

Kate Sierzputowski

"Bester I, Mayotte" (2015), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, all images from Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness (Aperture, 2018)

“Bester I, Mayotte” (2015), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, all images from Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness (Aperture, 2018)

South African photographer and activist Zanele Muholi creates striking self-portraits for their series Somnyama Ngonyama, which means “Hail the Dark Lioness” in Zulu. The black and white images elevate everyday objects like clothespins, sunglasses, and wire sponges into elaborate hair pieces and costumes that speak to radical identity and resistance. The extensive series of portraits has recently been compiled into a monograph by Aperture, which contains a conversation with London-based curator Renée Mussai, in addition to more than twenty contributions from writers, curators, and poets.

Ninety powerful representations of the visual activist occupy the pages of Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, which acts as both an autobiographical work and a compendium of resistance. In response to the book’s release Muholi states, “I am producing this photographic document to encourage individuals in my community to be brave enough to occupy spaces—brave enough to create without fear of being vilified. . . . To teach people about our history, to rethink what history is all about, to reclaim it for ourselves—to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back.”

Muholi has documented black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people throughout South Africa for the past decade. They are the cofounder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women and founder of Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual media. Muholi currently lives and makes work in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is an honorary professor at the University of the Arts Bremen, Germany. You can see more of their portraits on Yancy Richardson Gallery’s website.

"Ntozakhe II, Parktown, Johannesburg" (2016), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

“Ntozakhe II, Parktown, Johannesburg” (2016), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

"Senzekile II, Cincinnati" (2016), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

“Senzekile II, Cincinnati” (2016), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

"Kodwa I, Amsterdam" (2017), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

“Kodwa I, Amsterdam” (2017), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

" Basizeni I, Amsterdam" (2016), © Zanele Muholi, commissioned by and courtesy of Autograph ABP, London

” Basizeni I, Amsterdam” (2016), © Zanele Muholi, commissioned by and courtesy of Autograph ABP, London

"Zithulele, Worcester, South Africa" (2016), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

“Zithulele, Worcester, South Africa” (2016), © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

“Faniswa, Seapoint, Cape Town” )2016); © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York