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5 Fast Facts: Zanele Muholi

Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts
Two dark-skinned young women with short hair sit together against a white brick wall, their limbs lovingly intertwined and glowing smiles across their faces. One wears a white bra and shorts, and the other a white tank-top and blue shorts.

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Zanele Muholi (b. 1972), whose work Katlego Mashiloane and Nosipho Lavuta, Ext. 2, Lakeside, Johannesburg (2007) is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Two dark-skinned young girls with short black hair sit together on a concrete floor against a sand-colored brick wall. One wears a white bra, the other a white tank top. Their arms and legs are interlocked comfortably, and they laugh happily, looking off to the right.
Zanele Muholi, Katlego Mashiloane and Nosipho Lavuta, Ext. 2, Lakeside, Johannesburg, 2007; Chromogenic print, 30 x 30 in.; Museum purchase: The Paul and Emily Singer Family Foundation with additional support from Nancy Nelson Stevenson; © Zanele Muholi; Courtesy of the artist, Yancey Richardson, New York, and Stevenson Cape Town / Johannesburg

1. Powerful Portraits

In 2006, Muholi began taking black-and-white photographs of individuals in response to the lack of visual documentation of the South African lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA) communities. This series, Faces and Phases, grew into a lifelong project. The artist continues to meet and photograph new people and revisit previous participants.

2. Teamwork

Muholi calls the people in their photographs “participants” rather than “subjects” to recognize the partnership required to complete a project. In addition to making their photograph, Muholi invites participants to speak at exhibitions or contribute statements to highlight their voices.

3. Joy and Pain

South Africa legalized same-sex marriage in 2006—yet members of the LGBTQIA communities still face hate crime-related violence. To honor both aspects of this reality, Muholi juxtaposed images of weddings and funerals in the exhibition Of Love & Loss at the Stevenson Gallery in Johannesburg in 2014.

Embed from Getty Images

4. Body Politics

In Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, Muholi acts as both photographer and participant using their own body to “[confront] the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive.” The series will ultimately comprise 365 images, one for each day of the year, referencing personal experiences and historical events.

5. Job Title

“I prefer to be a visual activist because most of the issues that I try to deal with in my work, they deal with human rights…so visual activism is basically dealing with a political agenda and using visuals as a means of articulation.”

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