Cape Town ~ South Africa
Zanele Muholi (1972, Umlazi) is a photographer and visual activist who affirms and celebrates the multiplicity of human identity and sexuality. Representing the black female body in an honest and compelling way, her intimate portrayal of lesbian love reveals beauty and tenderness, and asserts the joy of close relationships with radical and liberating energy.
Parallel with the production of these inspiring images, Muholi works on Faces and Phases (ongoing since 2006), an expanding archive of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in South Africa. Muholi’s integrity and affinity with those she photographs establishes deep trust, empowering them to become more public. She employs black-and-white portrait conventions to create dignified visual statements that emphasise the official nature of this historically important record of a previously hidden population. In addition she has done important work on hate crimes against LGBT people, the trials of perpetrators and funerals of victims.
Confidently operating in the different and often separated contexts of contemporary art and social development, from official cultural events to the streets, Zanele Muholi reaches a wide audience. She shines a searching light on the interaction of socio-economic realities and gender non-conformity, exploring the power politics of class, race, gender and sexuality, and disrupting norms and stereotypes. Intentionally didactic, her work activates others, increases media attention on LGBT issues, confronts the conservative social culture and boldly exposes the contradictions between South Africa’s progressive LGBT state policy and the country’s daily context of violent homophobia.
Zanele Muholi is honoured for her powerful images supporting and promoting self-expression and pride within the gay community; for increasing knowledge and understanding of sensitive and/or taboo issues in South Africa and beyond; for her courageous visual archiving and activism to uphold the rights of LGBT people and assert their presence in public space; and for creating witnesses out of each of us and giving us a powerful weapon in the universal fight against discrimination.