Making movements in the South African community and around the world, Zanele Muholi (@muholizanele) seeks to educate and offset the stigma around the queer and trans community in Africa. Their work exhibits powerful imagery that silences the hate and challenges the oppressors, visual conversations with the world.
Muholi's imagery is striking, compelling and truthful. However, look past the pleasing aesthetics in gelatin silver print, and you can notice the imagery seeped in history, imperialist oppression, race, culture and politics.
It is in the interest of Muholi to use photography as a visual tool against injustice. A visual testimony to all that is Black is beautiful. A stand against decades of suffering to rise against the past and a move to the future of embodying the Black identity as a political statement of self affirming postivity. Their photographs stand to give freedom, encourage bravery, to fill a space unapologetically, to create without fear of judgement. To rethink history and reclaim it for themselves.
Their recent work Somnyama Ngonyama - Hail the Dark Lioness (2012-2018) emphasizes this. In the series, Zanele takes self portraits in different guises. Each image representing issues and experiences that have affected Black and Black LGBTQIA+ communities throughout history. Zanele hopes that through the constant capturing of imagery and the constant stare into the lens, that it will make people look, open up discussion and make the voiceless heard. A lot of the props from, scouring pads, wires, combs all symbolise a time in history and a political stance to what was. They want all that see their work to take something from it, whether it’s raw emotions, uncomfortable glare or intimacy. Photography is the best way to do that because you don't need to know how to read or write to know what's right and wrong.
Zanele was born in 1972 in Umlazi Durban. During this period, there were significant social and political riots. Growing up under the apartheid meant that it was a fight for survival, for rights and for dignity. This spurred a need for change and photography manifested this. They studied advanced photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newton, Johannesburg and in 2009 completed her MFA in documentary media at Ryerson University, Toronto. Muholi has won numerous awards including the ICP Infinity Award for documentary and photojournalism (2016) the Africa'Sout! Courage and Creativity Award 2016 as well as many more.
Their work Faces and Phases is homage to the notion of speaking up in a world where you are unheard. Zanele documents and photographs Black lesbians, trans men and gender non conforming individuals. The series acknowledges the pain and trauma their subjects go through and uses their photography as a way of healing their subjects through a yearly look at their transition, by giving them space to be themselves . They hopes to create an archive that is unerasable, that will exist beyond our time as a piece of history lived but not forgotten.
Zanele's work has been exhibited internationally from Tate London to the museums of modern art New York. If you would like to see their work, they are exhibiting in Paris at the Maison Europèenne de la Photographie until the 21st May 2023.