The Queer Community of South Africa and the Visual Activism of a Non Binary Person

Zanele Muholi is one of the most acclaimed photographers working today, and their work has been exhibited all over the world.

They is widely recognized and established in the field of photography and visual activism. They choose to identify themself more as a “visual activist”, focusing they work around the issue of discrimination against South Africa’s LGBTQI+ community, ranging from the spectrum of non-discrimination to incidents of violence against members of the community.

Photographing issues predominantly affecting the community, they create projects towards removing stereotypes and promoting visibility, while developing they activism with they artwork and forming a visual archive for the Black queer community in South Africa.

Zanele Muholi, A selection of works from the series Faces and Phases, 2007-2016. Composition of 27 digital photographs. Printed wallpaper on the vinyl sticker, 533.9 x 240 cm. Concession by the artist and Stevenson Gallery. Produced by the Athens Biennale. Installation view from the 7th Athens Biennale 2021 ECLIPSE.

In 2006 Muholi embarked on an ongoing project, Faces and Phases, in which they depict black lesbian and transgender individuals. Muholi’s self-proclaimed mission is “to rewrite a black queer and trans history of South Africa so that the world can know our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes.” These arresting portraits are part of Muholi’s contribution towards a more democratic and representative South African homosexual history. Through this positive imagery, Muholi hopes to offset the stigma and negativity attached to queer identity in African society. They co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) and founded Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media.

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 that challenge stereotypes and taboos.

Muholi was born in Umlazi, Durban and lives in Johannesburg. They studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and in 2009 completed an MFA: Documentary Media at Ryerson University, Toronto.



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