Middle East & Africa

Zanele Muholi
“Brave Beauties” series - Eva Mofokeng I, Parktown, Johannesburg

As a visual activist for the rights of Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LBGTQI), Muholi’s photographs radically transgress the conventional perception of lesbian and transgender communities in South Africa. Members of the LBGTQI community who suffer from continuous attacks — “corrective” and “curative rapes”, physical and psychological assaults, and hate crimes — Muholi works from her own community to create strong and positive images of empowered individuals. As visual statements, her photographs seek to dignify the members of an often hidden, voiceless and marginalized community. The verticality and scale of the prints accentuate the resilience of the figures, confronting the viewers with their scrutinizing and empowered gaze. The photographs support and promote self-expression, pride and autonomy in the face of an oppressive social system to reshape and reclaim an authoritative black lesbian and transgender presence in the global landscape. Presenting the black and white photographs as first-person testimonies of homophobia, discrimination and violence of LBGTQI black women, the “Brave Beauties” series thus acts as a conscription to autonomy and a visual activation of equal recognition.

Zanele Muholi (b. Umlazi, Durban, 1972) currently lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. She co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002, and in 2009 founded “Inkanyiso”, a forum for queer and visual activist media. With the intention of highlighting the hate crimes in South Africa, Muholi subverts the oppressive narrative of Black queer and trans through rewriting a visual history.