ZANELE MUHOLI

TATE MODERN, 14TH DECEMBER 2020

Zanele Muholi is one of the most acclaimed photographers working today, and their work has been exhibited all over the world. With over 260 photographs, this exhibition presents the full breadth of their career to date. 

 Muholi describes themself as a visual activist. From the early 2000s, they have documented and celebrated the lives of South Africa’s black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities. 

 In the early series Only Half the Picture, Muholi 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, its LGBTQIA+ community remains a target for violence and prejudice.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. Here, Zanele focuses on female victims of hate-crime through protecting their dignity and privacy of their participants by showing fragmented views of the body. Hard hitting portraits are interspersed with quiet moments of queer desire and intimacy including self-portraits of the artist themselves. 

'In my world, every human is beautiful, its the kindness and what comes from within that is beautiful. It is not the outer layer or the physical.' 

Vitrines occupy the center of the room and demarcate the two spaces that the exhibition occupies. Ephemera is collected relating to early activist work, anti-hate crimes and Muholi's compelling writing into the rise of Africa's progressive constitution and its implications for the queer and black community who persist to live in fear.  The surrounding images to this documentation counter the hard hitting message of hate-crime by showing images of love, desire and intimacy and countering aswell, the idea that persists that same sex relationships are 'un-African'. 

 Other key series of works, include Brave Beauties, which celebrates empowered non-binary people and trans women, many of whom have won Miss Gay Beauty pageants, and Being, a series of tender images of couples which challenge stereotypes and taboos.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.​

The theme that underpins Muholi's work is that of collaboration many of whom are members of their collective Inkanyiso which is a Zulu word meaning 'light'. Muholi gives participants, their people the confidence to be the archivers of their own history to ensure that the erasures of their histories doesn't happen. 

'We should be counted and certainly counted on to write our own history and validate our own existence.'



Using Format