Born in Umlazi, South Africa Lives and works in Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa

“I am producing this photographic document to encourage people to be brave enough to occupy space, brave enough to create without fear of being vilified … To teach people about our history, to re-think what history is all about, to re-claim it for ourselves, to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back … forcing the viewer to question their desire to gaze at images of my black figure”

Visual activist and photographer Zanele Muholi presents three bodies of work that look at the politics of race, gender and sexuality: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness; Faces and Phases; and Brave Beauties. Brave Beauties is an ongoing series featuring Transwomen. It was conceptualised and brought to life in 2014, the year of South Africa’s 20th anniversary of democracy. The series acknowledges the radical transformation of South African society although many shadows remain, especially in terms of crimes against the LGBTIQI+ community. Many of the participants in the series have won community-based beauty pageants. These pageants are a way of creating awareness of the histories and experiences of LGBTQI+ communities through cultural activities, including music and dance performances. The participants in Brave Beauties are from different parts of South Africa, and their portraits were taken mainly in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Faces and Phases is a commemoration and celebration of black lesbians, Transgender individuals and Gender non-conforming people from South Africa and beyond. Muholi embarked on this project in 2006. To date, more than 500 portraits are part of this series. Collectively, the portraits are an act of visual activism, depicting participants of various ages, backgrounds and at different stages of their lives. Faces and Phases started months before the Civil Union Act was passed in 2006, legalising same-sex marriage in South Africa. Muholi was aware of the absence of this community from visual history. Choosing to photograph people they know, the artist has maintained these relationships across time, producing follow-up images of some participants in different periods of their lives. The project is a living archive, and Muholi continues to introduce the audience to new participants. Somnyama Ngonyama features self-portraits taken in the many countries and cities Muholi has visited across the world. The artist employs various materials, often common or linked to the specific location of a shoot, to reflect the journey and explore their own image and possibilities as a black individual responding to contemporary and historical racisms in today’s global society. Presented at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney with generous assistance from the Sherman Foundation, and in partnership with PHOTO 2020. Public programming relating to this project was made possible with generous support from the Naomi Milgrom Foundation. Courtesy the artist; Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg; and Yancey Richardson, New York Copyright © Zanele Muholi