Zanele Muholi

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Zanele Muholi
Zanele Muholi. Festival «Side by Side».JPG
Zanele at the 2011 International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
Born (1972-07-19) 19 July 1972 (age 42)
Umlazi, Durban
Nationality South African
Known for Photography

Zanele Muholi (Born 19 July 1972 in Umlazi, Durban) is a South African photographer and visual activist.

Early life[edit]

Muholi was born to Ashwell Tanji Banda Muholi and Bester Muholi and she is the last of 5 children. She completed an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg in 2003, and held her first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004. In 2009 she was awarded her Master of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Media from Ryerson University in Toronto. Her thesis mapped the visual history of black lesbian identity and politics in post-Apartheid South Africa.[1]


Muholi was employed as a photographer and reporter for Behind the Mask,[2] an online magazine on LGBTI issues in Africa. In 2002, she co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW),[3] a black lesbian organization dedicated to providing a safe space for women to meet and organize. She researched and documented the stories of hate crimes against the gay community in order to bring forth the realities of “corrective rape”,[4] assault, and HIV/AIDS, to public attention.

Muholi launched her visual activism through her first solo exhibition entitled 'Visual Sexuality: Only Half the Picture', at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004. Her work is mostly about bringing visibility of queers in the black community. She has exhibited at the CCA Lagos in Nigeria, the Kunsthalle Wien Project Space in Vienna, Michael Stevenson in Cape Town, Le Case d’Arte in Milan, Fred Mann in London,[5] and as part of the Afrovibes Festival in Amsterdam.[6]

Her group exhibitions include: ...for those who live in it: Pop Culture, Politics and Strong Voices at MU Eindhoven, The Netherlands (2010); Bamako in Toronto, Toronto (2010); Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, USA (2009); and Life Less Ordinary: Performance and Display in South African Art at Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham, UK (2009);São Paulo Biennial(2010); Africa: See You, See Me, Fondazione Studio Maragoni, Florence; Officine Fotografiche, Rome (2011); The Progress of Love, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (2012); worldOutgames III, Galerie Verbeeck - Van Dyck, Antwerp, Belgium (2013).

In 2009, Muholi founded Inkanyiso, a non-profit organisation concerned with visual activism. It is involved with visual arts and media advocacy for and on behalf of the LGBTI community. The organisation’s vision statement is Produce. Educate. Disseminate.

In 2010, Muholi co directed her documentary Difficult Love, which was commissioned by SABC. It has shown in South Africa, USA, Spain, Sweden, UK, Amsterdam and Italy.

On the 28th of October 2013, she was appointed Honorary Professor - video and photography at the University of the Arts/Hochschule für Künste Bremen in Germany.

In 2014, she presented at the prestigious Design Indaba Conference in Cape Town.[7]

In June 2014, Muholi was back at her almer mater, showing Faces and Phases at the Ryerson Image Centre as part of World Pride. In the same month she showed at the Singapore International Arts Festival's O.P.E.N. She also spoke on legacies of violence.


Muholi has participated in the following;[8]

Solo Exhibitions[edit]

2014 Faces and Phases, Massimadi Afrocaribbean LGBT international film festival, Montréal, Canada 2010 Indawo Yami, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town
2009 Faces and Phases, Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg, Like a Virgin (two-person exhibition), CCA Lagos, Nigeria
2007 Being, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town
2006 Vienna Kunsthalle project space, Vienna: Slide Show

Only half the picture, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town Only half the picture, Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg Only half the picture, Galerie 32-34, Amsterdam SoWhereTo Now, Afrovibes and Galeries 32-34, Amsterdam

2004 Visual Sexuality, as part of Urban Life (Market Photo Workshop exhibition), Johannesburg Art Gallery

Selected Group Exhibitions[edit]

2011 Appropriated Landscapes: Contemporary African Art from the Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm, Germany
2010 ...for those who live in it: Pop culture, politics and strong voices, MU Eindhoven, The Netherlands
2009 Les Rencontres de Bamako Biennial of African Photography, Mali
2008 Summer 2008/9: Projects, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town
2007 Summer 2007/8, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town
2006 South African Art Now, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town
2005 Erotic Blenders, Toronto, Canada
2004 Women Arts Festival: Is Everybody Comfortable? (Market Photo Workshop exhibition), Museum Africa, Johannesburg
2003 Pride Women Arts Festival, Johannesburg
2002 Women Arts Festival, Pink Loerie Festival, Knysna


Muholi received the 2005 Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, the BHP Billiton/Wits University Visual Arts Fellowship in 2006, a 2009 Thami Mnyele Residency in Amsterdam, and was the 2009 Ida Ely Rubin Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. She won the Casa Africa award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at the Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography in 2009, and received a Fanny Ann Eddy accolade from IRN-Africa for her outstanding contributions to the study of sexuality in Africa. In 2012, she was awarded a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship. In 2013 she was awarded the Freedom of Expression award by Index on Censorship. Glamour Magazine named her Campaigner of the Year. She was the winner of the Fine Prize for the 2013 Carnegie International. On December 13, 2013 she was honoured with the prestigious Prince Claus Award.


  • Zanele Muholi: Only Half The Picture. Michael Stevenson, Cape Town 2006, ISBN 0-620361468.
  • Michael Stevenson and Federica Angelucci: Faces and Phases. Prestel, Munich, Berlin, London, New York 2010, ISBN 978-3-7913-4495-9.
  • Zanele Muholi. African Women Photographers #1, Ed. Casa África/La Fábrica, Granada, Spain 2011, ISBN 978-8-4150-3466-7


In August 2009, Minister of Arts and Culture, Lulu Xingwana walked out of an exhibition that featured Muholi’s photography, calling it immoral, offensive and going against nation-building.[9] In her response Muholi expressed her sentiments by saying; "It's paralysing. I expected people to think before they act, and to ask questions. I wanted to create dialogue"[10]

On April 20, 2012, Muholi's flat in Vredehoek was robbed, with over 20 primary and back-up external hard drives containing five years' worth of photos and video being stolen with her laptop. Photos contained therein include records of the funerals of three Black South African lesbians murdered in hate crimes. Nothing else was stolen, raising suspicions that Muholi's recordings of Black lesbian life was targeted. Muholi was overseas at the time of the robbery.[11][12]