Zanele Muholi on images as activism
As a new retrospective opens at the MEP in Paris, the photographer and visual activist discusses their life’s work amplifying South Africa’s Black LGBTQIA communities
Zanele Muholi has long defined themself as a ‘visual activist’. The South African photographer, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, has spent the last two decades documenting and celebrating the lives of the country’s Black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities – repurposing the camera as a tool to confront and repair injustice.
Born in 1972 in the township of Umlazi in Durban, Muholi’s introduction to activism came during a period of significant social and political upheaval in South Africa. “Growing up under apartheid meant that the Black person was on survival mode every day. It also meant fighting for a slice of dignity. To be seen. To be counted. To be visible. To be,” they tell CR.
Democracy in South Africa was established in 1994 with the abolition of apartheid. Two years later, this was followed by a new constitution – the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Despite this progress, the country’s Black LGBTQI+ community is still the target of violence and prejudice today.
Top: Triple III, 2005; Above: Qiniso, The Sails, Durban, 2019. Unless otherwise stated all images courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York © Zanele Muholi