This afternoon discussion with the South African visual activist and photographer takes place after their first retrospective, organised at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) in collaboration with the Tate, London, the Gropius Bau, Berlin, and the Bildmuseet at Umeå University. In Paris, this retrospective received over 80,000 visitors and became the institution's most-visited exhibition for an artist who identifies as black or queer.
Born in 1972 in Umlazi, Zanele Muholi's work is deeply linked to the defense of the LGBTQIA+ community. Muholi studied advanced photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and completed an MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University in Toronto in 2009. Their work has been exhibited at Documenta 13, the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, and the 29th São Paulo Biennale. Solo exhibitions have been held at institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Gallatin Galleries in New York, the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Kulturhistorisk Museum in Oslo, the Schwules Museum in Berlin and Casa Africa in Las Palmas.
Muholi has produced a number of photographic series that explore the stark divide in post-apartheid South Africa between the equality promoted by the country's constitution and the intolerance and violence directed at members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The artist co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women in 2002 and Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual media, in 2009. Muholi's self-proclaimed mission is to "rewrite a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa so that the world knows of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond".
In 2012, Muholi opened her first solo exhibition in France at L'Espace Canopy, at the invitation of the collective Les dégommeuses. It was the same year that Muholi brought his football team Thokozani Football Club to play in a tournament against homophobia at the Parc de Prins stadium in Paris. Thokozani Football Club is named after a lesbian football player brutally murdered in Durban in 2011.
In a more recent series, Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness), Muholi becomes both the participant and the creator of images, turning the camera on himself. Experimenting with different characters and archetypes, Muholi's self-portraits refer to specific events in South Africa's political history. By exaggerating the darkness of her complexion, they reclaim her blackness and counterbalance the culturally dominant images of black women in today's media. Some self-portraits in this series were also made during their residency at the Cité internationale des arts in 2014.