Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi


NYU Gallatin Galleries Presents: Zanele Muholi

February 5-26, 2016

Photos from the show

Talk with Zanele Muholi

Zinathi is a Zulu expression that means “All races, nations, communities and cultures” have LGBTI individuals.

The year 2016 marks an important milestone in South Africa’s evolution. The country celebrates 20 Years of a progressive Constitution, which was amended in 1996 to include key protections for sexual minorities in its new Bill of Rights.  This year, South Africa also commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Soweto youth uprising (1976) and the 60th anniversary of the multi-racial Women’s March to Pretoria protesting passbook laws (1956). This exhibit, Zinathi, builds on the visual activism associated with those pivotal moments to highlight activism in this post-Apartheid era. Despite South Africa’s progressive Constitution, our LGBTI community in SA has witnessed a lot of brutality caused by hate crimes.


Portrait of MaGesh Zungu, taken by artist. Brooklyn, NY 2015

Over the past 10 years I have documented crime scenes of lesbian murders and funerals to highlight the pain and loss experienced by South Africa’s lesbians. This documentation, including how the dead bodies are discarded, how some are left disfigured, and what women have to say about their lives, can be found in the videos on exhibit here.

This exhibit also contains new work from two series, Faces and Phases and Somnyama Ngonyama.

In Faces and Phases, I present our existence and resistance through portraits of black queers (especially lesbians) in South African society and beyond; this is an insider’s perspective that both commemorates and celebrates the lives of lesbians I have met in my journeys. Some of their stories give me sleepless nights as I try to process the struggles that they tell me. Many of the women I meet have been violated and I endeavor not to exploit them further through my work. As they become participants in my project, we build relationships that are based on mutual understandings of what it means to be female, lesbian and black today. Faces and Phases is about our histories and the struggles that we continue to face.

Somnyama Ngonyama, meaning ‘Hail, the Dark Lioness’, confronts the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive, while commenting on specific events in South Africa’s political history. Experimenting with different characters and archetypes, I have portrayed myself in highly stylized ways that use the performative and expressive languages of theater and fashion. The black face and its details become the focal point, forcing the viewer to question their desire to gaze at images of my black figure. By exaggerating the darkness of my skin tone, I’m reclaiming my blackness from the privileged gaze.

Taken together, the videos and portraits advocate visibility, resistance and urgency.