Fondation Louis Vuitton – Zanele Muholi

Saturday, March 16th, 2024

Following their first exhibition in 2004 at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the artist worked for the magazine Behind the Mask and cofounded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, based in Gauteng. Muholi defines themself as a “visual activist”. Their work seeks to shine a light on a marginalised lesbian community, which is often a victim of aggression. Works goes far beyond social documentary to tackle questions of identity head-on. The series Faces and Phases Follow Up – begun in 2006 and comprising 300 portraits – best represents the artist’s approach. Each model was photographed at different stages of their life. “I’m trying to establish a relationship based on the mutual understanding of what it means to be a black lesbian woman today,” the artist explains.

In the series “Somnyama Ngonyama” [“Hail the dark lioness” in Zulu], a collection of self-portraits taken at home and in hotel rooms during their trips abroad, Muholi challenges the history of photographic representations of the black woman. In outrageous makeup, ever-changing hairstyles, and a wide variety of costumes, props and accessories, Zanele Muholi displays their own image with pride, cleverly playing with stereotypes of African femininity. Muholi uses the contrast of black-and-white photography to accentuate the darkness of their body. 

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