Get the picture

Zanele Muholi’s expansive photographic career on display in a new exhibition.

A major exhibition of works from South African visual activist Zanele Muholi, at the Tate Modern in London until 26 January 2025, features more than 300 photographs from the breadth of their entire career and includes new creations by the artist.


This exhibition - the first major UK survey of the artist’s work - was originally opened at the Tate Modern in 2020 but cancelled due to the Covid 19 lockdown. Now, the exhibition returns to the famous gallery featuring new works conceived in the intervening years.


Muholi came to prominence in the early 2000s with photographs that told the stories of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex lives in South Africa. These images challenge dominant ideologies and present the participants as empowered individuals superbly existing in the face of prejudice, intolerance - and often violence. 


While South Africa’s 1996 post-Apartheid constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, the LGBTQIA+ community remains a target for violence and prejudice in the country. In their early series Only Half the Picture, Muholi depicted the complexities of gender and sexuality for the queer community, including moments of love and intimacy as well as intense images alluding to traumatic events in the lives of the participants.


Muholi also began an ongoing visual archive of portraits, Faces and Phases, which observes and commemorates Black lesbians, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Each participant looks directly at the camera, challenging the viewer to hold their gaze, while individual testimonies capture their stories.


The exhibition includes several other key series of works, including Brave Beauties, which celebrates empowered non-binary people and trans women, and Being, a series of tender images of couples which confront white supremacist and heteronormative stereotypes and taboos.


New works, such as Muholi’s acclaimed series of dramatic self-portraits entitled Somnyama Ngonyama (‘Hail the Dark Lioness’ in isiZulu), will also be presented at the exhibition. ‘Turning the camera on themself, the artist adopts different poses and characters to address issues of race and representation,’ writes Tate Modern. ‘The resulting images explore themes of labour, racism, Eurocentrism and sexual politics, often commenting on events in South Africa’s history and Muholi’s experiences as a Black queer person travelling abroad.’


Since the original exhibition in 2020, Muholi has expanded their practice into sculpture. Four monumental sculptures on display in the new exhibition reckon with the relationship between public and private spheres with three bronze depictions of the artist, and a bronze representation of female sexual anatomy.


The exhibition is accompanied by a soundscape specially created by South African singer and award-winning musician Toya Delazy, who has created unique responses to each section of the show to form a sonic tour to take visitors through the exhibition.





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