The MEP is proud to present the first retrospective in France dedicated to Zanele Muholi, the internationally renowned South African photographer and activist whose work documents and celebrates the Black LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual+) community. This major event, which brings together more than 200 photographs and videos created since the early 2000s as well as numerous archival materials, covers the full breadth of Muholi's career to date, honouring one of the most acclaimed artists working today.
Zanele Muholi, who defines themself* as a “visual activist”, uses the camera as a tool to confront and repair injustice. During the 1990s, South Africa underwent significant social and political change. Democracy was established in 1994 with the abolition of apartheid; this was followed by a new constitution in 1996, the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Despite this progress, the Black LGBTQIA+ community remains the target of violence and prejudice to this day.
Muholi is deeply involved in this community, and their photographic work is inseparable from their life and their activism. Telling stories that are both individual and collective, the artist hopes to give visibility to their community while challenging conventional stereotypes and representations. Bringing to light the uniqueness and diversity of the individuals they picture, Muholi emphasizes their courage and dignity in the face of intolerance and discrimination.
Muholi’s work is created through a collaborative process. They refer to the people they photograph as active “participants” in the work rather than “subjects”; the portrait’s location, clothing and pose are determined together. At times, the artist also turns the camera lens on themself, calling into question the image of Black women in history.
These photographs encourage viewers to address their own misconceptions. Together they create a new lexicon of positive imagery for under- and misrepresented communities, promoting mutual understanding and respect.
Bester I, Mayotte 2015
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York © Zanele Muholi
Zanele Muholi was born in 1972 in Umlazi in Durban township, South Africa, and lives between Durban and Cape Town. Muholi studied at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg and Ryerson University in Toronto. Co-founder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women and founder of Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual media, the artist is also an honorary professor at the University of the Arts Bremen, Germany. Their work has featured in numerous solo exhibitions worldwide, including those at the Goethe-Institut Johannesburg (2012); the Brooklyn Museum, New York (2015); the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2017); Autograph ABP, London (2017) and the Museo de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires (2018).
Muholi has also won numerous awards, including the Lucie Humanitarian Award (2019); the Photography Book award from the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation for Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail, the Dark Lioness (Aperture); the Rees Visionary Award from Amref Health Africa (2019); a fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society, UK (2018); France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2017); and the Mbokodo Award in the visual arts category (2017).