Zanele Muholi

The artist confronting politics, danger and self-invention in her portraits of lesbian and trans South Africans

By Brian Dillon

Ntozakhe II, Parktown, 2016, silver gelatin print. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg Lerato Dumse, Syracuse, New York Upstate, 2015 (from Faces and Phases, 2006–), silver gelatin print, 77 × 51 cm. © the artist. Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town & Johannesburg Nunu Sigasa, Germiston, Johannesburg, 2010 (from Faces and Phases, 2006–), silver gelatin print, 77 × 51 cm. © the artist. Courtesy Yancey Richardson, New York, and Stevenson, Cape Town & Johannesburg Pam Dlungwana, Vredehoek, Cape Town, 2011 (from Faces and Phases, 2006–), silver gelatin print, 77 × 51 cm. © the artist. Courtesy Yancey Richardson, New York, and Stevenson, Cape Town & Johannesburg Namhla at Cassilhaus, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2016, silver gelatin print, 80 × 53 cm. © the artist. Courtesy the artist; Wentrup, Berlin; Stevenson, Cape Town & Johannesburg; and Yancey Richardson, New York Bester IV, Mayotte, 2015, silver gelatin print, 80 × 58 cm.©the artist. Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town & Johannesburg

‘Zanele the fire-eater’ is how one of her most ardent sitters describes her. For a decade and a half the South African photographer Zanele Muholi has been an indomitable defender of LGBTQ rights in her native country, where those rights (though extensively codified under South African law) are under constant assault. Muholi was born in Durban in 1972, and worked in factories and then as a hair stylist before taking up photography, initially as a purely documentary practice. In 2002…

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