Zanele Muholi

BIOGRAPHY

1972-

A photographer and self-proclaimed visual activist, Zanele Muholi explores black lesbian and gay identities and politics in contemporary South Africa. For their series “Faces and Phases” (2006-11), Muholi photographed more than 200 portraits of South Africa’s lesbian community. “The portraits are at once a visual statement and an archive,” they said, “marking, mapping, and preserving an often invisible community for posterity.” Muholi’s sensitive portraits challenge the stigma surrounding gays and lesbians in South Africa, debunk the common rhetoric that homosexuality is un-African, and address the preponderance of hate crimes against homosexuals in their native country. Among other subjects, they captured the survivors of “corrective rape”. In April 2012, thieves broke into Muholi’s Cape Town apartment and stole over 20 hard drives holding years of photographic documentation, suggesting the continued controversy and sensitivity surrounding the issues that Muholi’s works confront.


Muholi was born in Umlazi, Durban, in 1972, and lives in Johannesburg. They co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002, and in 2009 founded Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media. Muholi's self-proclaimed mission is 'to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond'. Muholi studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and in 2009 completed an MFA: Documentary Media at Ryerson University, Toronto. They won numerous awards including the Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the 2013 Carnegie International; a Prince Claus Award (2013); the Index on Censorship - Freedom of Expression art award (2013); and the Casa Africa award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography (2009). Her Faces and Phases series has shown at, among others, Documenta 13; the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale; and the 29th São Paulo Biennale. They were shortlisted for the 2015 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for their publication Faces and Phases: 2006-14 (Steidl/The Walther Collection). Muholi is an Honorary Professor of the University of the Arts, Bremen.