Zanele Muholi- the photographer archiving black lesbian identities

Posted on February 1, 2012

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Today marks the start of  LGBT History month in the UK and USA.  2011 saw an increase in conflicts over LGBT rights in many countries. sub-Saharan Africa as a region saw a took a downward turn in LGBT freedoms. With this in mind we celebrate the work of South African photographer Zanele Muholi, who has been mapping and archiving a visual history of Black Lesbians in post-Apartheid South Africa.

I was introduced to Zanele’s work in March 2011 when  two of her series ‘Miss Lesbian’ and ‘Being (T)here’, in collaboration with photographer Sean Fitzpatrick were featured during the Women of the World(WOW) Festival at the South Bank Centre London. Her work was also among the V&A’s exhibition ‘Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography’ in the summer of 2011.

Muholi was born in Umlazi, Durban, in 1972. She completed an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown and held her first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004.

She has worked as a community relations officer for the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organisation based in Gauteng, and as a photographer and reporter for Behind the Mask, an online magazine on lesbian and gay issues in Africa.

Her work represents the black female body in a frank yet intimate way that challenges the history of the portrayal of black women’s bodies in documentary photography.

Muholi’s role gives her subjects a platform to be seen in a climate that remains for the most part closed to the existence of these identities. Her portraits celebrate her subjects and demands recognition for these marginalized(and in many places taboo) identities.  

Zanele Muholi

To find out more about Zanele Muholi and view some more her work visit her personal website

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Posted in: Reviews