Zanela Muholi

Zanele Muholi: Artist Profile


Zanele Muholi, born in Umlazi, Durban, South Africa, in 1972, is a visual activist and photographer. Muholi co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002 and founded Inkanyiso, a platform for LGBTQ+ and visual activism, in 2009. They studied at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg and later earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Media from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, in 2009. Muholi’s work primarily focuses on raising awareness about the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa and promoting visibility and representation.

Important Works

  • Faces and Phases (2006 – ongoing): A series of black-and-white photographic portraits documenting the lives and experiences of black lesbians, transgender individuals, and gender-nonconforming people in South Africa. The ongoing project aims to empower the subjects and create a visual history of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Being (2007): A series of intimate photographs that explore the personal lives and relationships of black LGBTQ+ individuals in South Africa. The images challenge the stereotypical narratives surrounding the community, highlighting love, affection, and domesticity.
  • Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness) (2012 – 2018): In this series, Muholi turns the lens on themselves, creating self-portraits that challenge perceptions of race, gender, and sexuality. The images often use props and costumes made from everyday materials, exploring themes of identity, representation, and self-expression.


Zanele Muholi’s work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide. Some notable exhibitions include:

  • Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases (2014): A solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, showcasing Muholi’s ongoing portrait series of LGBTQ+ individuals from South Africa.
  • Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness (2018): A traveling solo exhibition organized by Autograph ABP in London, which toured multiple locations, including the Colby College Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.
  • Zanele Muholi: Isibonelo/Evidence (2015): A mid-career retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, presenting more than 90 works from Muholi’s various projects, including photography, video, and installations.

Relevant Info

Zanele Muholi has received several awards and honors for their work in photography and activism. In 2013, they received the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands for their contributions to culture and development. In 2016, Muholi was awarded an honorary doctorate from the California College of the Arts and was named an Honorary Professor of the University of the Arts London in 2018. Muholi’s work is included in the collections of several prominent institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are Zanele Muholi’s pronouns?

A: Zanele Muholi uses they/them pronouns.

Q: What is Zanele Muholi known for?

A: Zanele Muholi is known for their visual activism and photography that raises awareness about the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa and promotes visibility and representation.

Q: What kind of art does Zanele Muholi make?

A: Zanele Muholi creates photographic art, focusing on portraits and self-portraits that address themes of identity, race, gender, and sexuality, particularly within the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa.

Q: Why does Zanele Muholi use black and white?

A: Zanele Muholi often uses black and white photography to emphasize the contrasts, textures, and depth in their images. This stylistic choice also adds a timeless quality to their work, making the subjects and their experiences feel universally relatable and significant.

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