Visual Activist, Cultural Agitator and LGBTQ Hero: Zanele Muholi.

by | Jun 13, 2021 | Art, CSA Celebrates, Culture, Lifestyle, Photography, Talent, The Wire

  • One of the most significant photographers in the world.
  • A visual activist.
  • Explores black lesbian and gay identities.
  • Celebrated exhibition of 260 photographs in Tate Modern for Pride Month.

South African Zanele Muholi is one of the most important and acclaimed photographers alive today. From the early 2000s, they have documented and celebrated the lives of South Africa’s Black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities. The self-proclaimed visual activist uses their sensitive portraits to challenge the stigma surrounding gays and lesbians in South Africa. Importantly, they debunk the common rhetoric that homosexuality is un-African. In the context of a contemporary democratic South Africa, they address the preponderance of hate crimes against homosexuals in their own country.

“The work that I produce is for everyone”.

260 photographs expressing Muholi’s career to date, are being exhibited in the Tate Modern in London during PRIDE month. The exhibition is a stunning archive-celebration of black lesbian and gay identities and exploration politics in contemporary South Africa. They are also a striking representation of Muholi’s significant and weighty talent.

An early photographic series, Only Half the Picture, captures moments of love and intimacy as well as intense images alluding to traumatic events, despite the equality promised by South Africa’s 1996 constitution.

“I want to believe the work touches the soul”.

In Faces and Phases each participant looks directly at the camera, challenging the viewer to hold their gaze. These images and the accompanying testimonies form a growing archive of a community of people who are risking their lives by living authentically in the face of oppression and discrimination.

“The queer self is the heart.”

Muholi turns the camera on themself in the ongoing series Somnyama Ngonyama – translated as ‘Hail the Dark Lioness’. These powerful and reflective images explore themes including labour, racism, Eurocentrism and sexual politics.​

“In my world, every human is beautiful.”

There are so many more images and video, all important, all relevant from Zanele Muholi. Their art and activism occupy and demands a central part of LGBTQ culture in South Africa. With supreme skill and grace, Zanele holds up a mirror to a community hidden, celebrated, traumatized, politicized, and slowly finding its feet in a hard-won space. In April 2012, thieves broke into Muholi’s Cape Town apartment and stole over 20 hard drives holding years of photographic documentation, suggesting the continued controversy and sensitivity surrounding the issues that Muholi’s works confront. And still, there is beauty.

Because, in Zanele Muholi’s world every human is beautiful.

C.S.A.’s monthly cultural portal, The WIRE connects the dots of culture. With concise stories, many with video content, take a premium dive into the world of African entertainment & cultural fluidity. It’s one thing to be hip to what’s happening but it is another to know why.

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