Zanele Muholi

South African, c. 1972

Apinda Mpako and Ayanda Magundulela, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2007
Silver gelatin print, 30 1/8 x 30 1/8 in.

Museum purchase, Wachenheim Family Fund, M.2015.2.3

Internationally recognized artist Zanele Muholi is a post-Apartheid South African photographer whose work is a self-conscious engagement with that nation’s political and photographic history. In various interviews, Muholi has described her work as “art activism”—a response to institutional discrimination affecting LGBTQ people.

In a social context in which homosexuality is often perceived as un-African and an affront to national identity, Muholi’s photographs provide affirming depictions of same-sex intimacy and desires. The Being series (2007) daringly depicts love and eroticism between women. Muholi’s sensual depictions of entwined bodies confront normative ideologies and social institutions that strictly privilege heterosexual representations of intimacy.

Muholi draws from the traditions of ethnographic, documentary, and portraiture photography to rewrite a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa and abroad. In addition to photography, she produces documentaries, including the award-winning Difficult Love. The artist’s practice of creating an archive of black queer life is more than a human rights initiative comprised of a collection of images of resistance. Rather, it is a critical exercise of developing a nuanced record of a community that has heretofore either been consciously excluded or misrepresented in the media.