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Zanele Muholi’s Visual Activism

In a new show at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York City, Zanele Muholi continues her work exploring queer life and self-representation in South Africa and elsewhere. The show, opening today and running until December 9, includes work from two series.

“Brave Beauties,” begun in 2014, depicts South African transwomen posing in stylish and sexy clothes, at ease against plain backgrounds. In showing her subjects as they wish to be seen, the images “represents an overt challenge to a culture that continues to violently discriminate against the LGBTQI community,” the gallery writes. In “Somnyama Ngonyama,” (“Hail, the Dark Lioness” in Zulu), begun last year, Muholi uses herself as a subject. Working in cities in Europe, the U.S., Asia and Africa, Muholi creates elaborate costumes from everyday props and materials, using them to enact characters and archetypes that reference history, politics and events from her personal life. In “Thulani II, Parktown” she stands behind a chain link fence, alluding to South Africa’s apartheid era. In “Thuleleni, Biljmer, Amsterdam,” Muholi wears an ornate white collar and cuffs, made from paper rather than lace and referencing the fashions worn by wealthy Dutch women in 17th century and seen in paintings from the era. The image connects Muholi herself to the long history of Dutch colonialism in South Africa. As Muholi told a recent interviewer, “The black body itself is the material, the black body that is ever scrutinised, and violated and undermined.”

Related Stories:
Capturing an Elegant Performance of Grief and Strength
Picturing a Post-Apartheid, Post-Genocide Generation
Photographer Zanele Muholi on Fighting Homophobic Violence with Portraiture (for PDN subscribers; login required)

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