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Zanele Muholi: Documenting LGBT lives

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Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi: Documenting LGBT lives

Despite being known as a visual artist, Zanele Muholi from South Africa would rather be known as a ‘visual activist’ thanks to her career as a photographer documenting LGBT lives in South Africa and beyond.

More importantly, Zanele’s work documents the LGBT communities that don’t have a voice in their own countries because of the lack of rights.

Zanele Muholi: Photography saved me

Born in Umlazi, Durban on July 19, 1972, Zanele Muholi was one of eight children in their family.

As a black lesbian growing up in South Africa, Zanele credits photography for saving her life.

“I was frustrated. I was on the verge of suicide. Photography saved my life,” she told The Guardian.

“It was the only thing that ever made sense to me. I use art as my own means of articulation. And it heals me. When I really needed therapy and I wasn’t willing to sit with a shrink, I started to take photographs,” she added.

Muholi took up Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg in 2003. She then finished an MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University, Toronto in 2009.

Currently, Muholi wants to “to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond.”

Zanele Muholi: Her works and her awards

Her first solo exhibition was in Johannesburg in 2004, “Visual Sexuality.” Since then, she’s photographed women in the series “Only Half the Picture” (2003–04), transgenders or gay men in “Beulahs” (2006–10), and couples in “Being” (2007).

In the “Faces and Phases” series (2006–), she took individual black-and-white portraits of lesbians, women, and trans men.

Her award-winning work has been displayed around the world, like Casa África, Las Palmas in Spain, the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg, and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena in Italy.

Her most recent group shows include Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris and the Kyotographie International Photography Festival in Kyoto this year.

Zanele Muholi: Facing anti-LGBT bigotry

As a ‘visual activist,’ Zanele tries to document the disconnect in post-apartheid South Africa of the country’s 1996 Constitution and the anti-LGBT violence and bigotry.

For example, the importance of the “Faces and Phases” series cannot be understated as a number of women she has photographed has been kiled, like the writer and poet Busi Sigasa.

“The risk we take is on a daily basis. Just living, and thinking what might happen, not only to you but also your fellow activists and friends who are living their lives,” Zanele said.

Her work has also been targeted, when her home had been broken into she was away and hard drives containing her portraits of women were stolen.

“I’m scared. I won’t pretend not to be,” she said. However, she added: “This work needs to be shown, people need to be educated, people need to feel that there are possibilities.”

“I always think to myself, if you don’t see your community, you have to create it. I can’t be dependent on other people to do it for us.”

“This is about our lives, and if queer history, trans history, if politics of blackness and self-representation are so key in our lives, we just cannot sit down and not document and bring it forth,” she said.

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