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Zanele Muholi

Artist 23 Zanele Muholi Visual Activism


Zanele Muholi is a South African artist and self-described visual activist working in photography, video and installation. Her work focuses on black lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people.

Muholi has described herself as a visual activist as opposed to an artist. She is dedicated to increasing the visibility of black lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people. She researches and documents the stories of hate crimes against the gay community in order to bring forth the realities of “corrective rape”, assault, and HIV/AIDS, to public attention.


Her photography is a tool to subvert the typical representations of the LGBTQ community. She creates an archive of photos, working to dismantle dominant, pre-existing perceptions.

Through her artistic approach she hopes to document the journey of the African queer community as a record for future generations. She tries to capture the moment without negativity or focusing on the prevalent violence, portraying the LGBTQI community as individuals and as a whole to encourage unity.


Her series entitled ‘Hail the Dark Lioness’ will be the focus of today.

She uses her body to confront the politics of race and representation, questioning the way the black body is shown and perceived.



These self-portraits, echo the aesthetics of black-and-white portraiture and fashion photography and dressing in different outfits to play with different personas.


“I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other,” says South African photographer Zanele Muholi. “My reality is that I do not mimic being black; it is my skin, and the experience of being black is deeply entrenched in me. Just like our ancestors, we live as black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear.”

What I love about this portrait series technically is how she handles the black and white photography. The portraits reference to haute couture is powerful in resisting the social historical backlash of being black. This struggle is reflected in her struggle as someone who identifies outside of her communities norms within the black community.



Zanele Muholi has helped found two organizations:


Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organization dedicated to providing a safe space for women to meet and organize.


Inkanyiso, a non-profit organisation concerned with queer visual activism. It is involved with visual arts and media advocacy for and on behalf of the LGBTI community.


Please if you are affected by the struggles she advocates reach out to these groups.




Sources consulted:

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