“I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged ‘other,’” says Muholi. “My reality is that I do not mimic being black; it is my skin, and the experience of being black is deeply entrenched in me. Just like our ancestors, we live as black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear.”
From 2014–17, Muholi traveled around the world as part of an ongoing project, staging self-portraits loaded with symbols and moods derived from each location, primarily throughout Europe, North America, and Africa. In over 80 self-portraits, the artist frames their face with ready-made objects and found materials that become transformed into evocative and historically loaded props. Scouring pads, clothespins, cowrie shells, and washing machine tubes signal associations with issues relating to race, gender, labor, global economies, ideas of beauty, and the environment.
A meaningful name for each portrait is given in Zulu, the first language of the artist. In each image, their direct and uncompromising gaze follows you wherever you go. Psychologically charged, these portraits pose critical questions about social justice, human rights, and contested representations of the black body.
ABOUT ZANELE MUHOLI
Zanele Muholi is a visual activist and photographer based in Johannesburg. Muholi co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002 and Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media, in 2009.
Muholi studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and in 2009 completed an MFA: Documentary Media at Ryerson University, Toronto. In 2013 they became an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts/Hochschule für Künste Bremen. Most recently, Muholi was bestowed France’s Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts des Lettres.