Muholi is a South African photographer and self-described “visual activist” who perceives her work as a lifetime endeavor aimed at redefining the face of Africa both within and outside the continent, and fighting violence against LGBT people. While black women's bodies are often sexualized throughout pop-culture, black lesbians are viewed as undesirable. This negative view of homosexuals in Africa leads to violence and rejection from their families. She has documented stories of hate crimes against the gay community in order to bring the realities of rape, assault, and sexually transmitted infection to public attention.
Why using photography to convey her message? “I am using photography as a way of educating and also to push a political agenda” says Muholi. “It’s easy to write a visual history because there is no language. Every person across the globe or different spaces could have an understanding of an image.” “Writers use a language that is understood by other writers, which sometimes could exclude those who are illiterate. I found it easier to use visual history because it doesn’t require any degree, although I am aware it might exclude people who are visually impaired. However, I know for sure that for any person in any space one could feel and sense a photograph because it speaks the same language“.
Born in 1972 in Durban, South Africa, Zanele Muholi studied at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg and received an MFA in documentary media from Ryerson University in Toronto. She has exhibited her work internationally, with solo shows at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (2004), the CCA Lagos (2009), and the Brooklyn Museum (2015). She has received awards for her work, including an Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in 2016, a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2016, and an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2018.
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