ZANELE MUHOLI AT TATE MODERN.

By Nii B. Andrews.

Zanele Muholi is uncompromising and bold and declares, “In my world, every human being is beautiful”. 

That world is a non- binary gendered world; a world that often raises the hackles of those who should know better and unfortunately especially in swathes of Africa where far too often bigotry and intolerance are freely indulged in by so called “big men”.

Visual activist, Zanele Muholi, uses photography and film to document and explore issues of race and representation and to celebrate the non-binary gendered community in South Africa and beyond. 

Buhlalu I, The Decks, Cape Town 2019. Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York © Zanele Muholi

The power of the images show that, that often misunderstood, marginalized and persecuted  community of people worldwide, are not alone. 

Muholi’s visual archive is an extraordinary body of work that includes numerous indelible images with a powerful cultural and political resonance.

The struggle to survive; the resilience of the specific photographed individuals and the collective community are all palpable as Muholi functions as an artist-activist within the non-binary gendered community.

Zanele Muholi Qiniso, The Sails, Durban 2019, © Zanele Muholi, Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and New York.

“Activism is part of my life,” Muholi declares, “we have gone through so much as human beings, that it has forced so many of us to become activists – those who have survived racism, who have survived hate crimes, who have survived displacement of many kinds. 

It is ongoing and one cannot take a break or relax or just be. One cannot just ignore one’s responsibilities.”

Even shooting the photos is fraught with danger for the subjects and the artist; the former are often targets of vicious assaults and hate crimes.

Zanele Muholi Sebenzile, Parktown 2016. Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York © Zanele Muholi

Muholi states, “This is a community in which people are risking their lives. So, when we are dealing with subject matter that is risky to report on, you try to be as careful as possible, because it is complex: you do not want to provoke perpetrators as you are working, or to put people in danger by how you produce these works. 

You have to make very sure you keep safe at all times, but also you need to advise the many people that you work with, and that you are related to, to also be on the alert constantly.”

Xiniwe at Cassilhaus, North Carolina, 2016, Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York

In South Africa, non-binary gendered rights are enshrined in the constitution, but sadly, their lives are nevertheless marked by exclusion and persecution. 

Tate Modern presents the first major UK survey of Muholi’s work with over 260 photographs.

This exhibition presents the full breadth of their career to date; it runs from November 5 to March 7 next year.

Ntozakhe II, Parktown 2016 – one of Muholi’s self-portraits in their Hail the Dark Lioness series. Photograph: Zanele Muholi/Courtesy the artist and Stevenson Gallery

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