ZANELE MUHOLI | Faces and Phases

Zanele Muholi. Amanda Mapuma, Vredehoek, Cape Town, 2011. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Zanele Muholi. Amanda Mapuma, Vredehoek, Cape Town, 2011. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

2006 – present. 12 silver gelatin prints, 20 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Stevenson Cape Town and Johannesburg.

In this ongoing body of work, Muholi creates the first visual archive of queer black lesbian and non-gender-conforming individuals with the mission to contribute towards a more democratic and representative national history. The black and white portraits in “Faces and Phases” depict over 200 individuals who play different roles within the black lesbian community in South Africa; each bears a caption with the subject’s name, and where and when the image was taken, thus creating both agency and visibility for a community continuously marginalized and threatened by queerphobic, xenophobic, transphobic, lesbophobic and homophobic crimes and prejudice. In the artist’s own words:

“From an insider’s perspective, this project is meant as a commemoration and a celebration of the lives of the black lesbians and trans(wo)men that I have met in my journeys through the townships and beyond.”

Zanele Muholi is a visual activist born in Umlazi, Durban and currently resides in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Muholi completed an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown in 2003, held her first solo exhibition in Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004, and received her MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University in Toronto in 2009, producing a thesis that maps the visual history of black lesbian identity and politics in post-apartheid South Africa. She has won numerous awards, including the 2005 Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, the first BHP Billiton/Wits University Visual Arts Fellowship in 2006, a Fanny Ann Eddy accolade from IRN-Africa, the Jean-Paul Blachère award at the Rencontres de Bamako African Photography Biennial, and the Casa Africa award for best female photographer living in Africa in 2009. Most recently, in 2013 she won the Index on Censorship – Freedom of Expression arts award.

In 2002, Muholi co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW,, a black lesbian organization based in Gauteng, for which she spent more than three years researching and documenting hate crimes in order to bring the realities of ‘curative rape’, assault, HIV and brutal murders of black lesbians to public attention.  In 2009, she founded Inkanyiso (, an organization that deals with visual arts, activism, media and advocacy.