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Zanele Muholi debuts at the SFMOMA – theartwolf

Zanele Muholi - Thathu I - 2019

From January 18 to August 11, 2024, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presents “Zanele Muholi: Eye Me”, the first major exhibition on the West Coast of South African artist Zanele Muholi

Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) · Image: Zanele Muholi, Thathu I, The Sails, Durban, 2019; collection of Pamela and David Hornik; © Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi: Eye Me begins with the artist’s first photographic series, Only Half the Picture (2002–2006), which grew out of their involvement with the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, co-founded by Muholi in 2002. As part of this organization, they traveled to several townships in South Africa to document survivors of hate crimes committed against members of the queer community. While some of Muholi’s photographs in this series point to violence, other works highlight moments of intimacy. Incorporating gestures of affection shifts the tone of the series toward hope and care for their community.

In Muholi’s ongoing series Being, begun in 2006, they photograph couples spending time together in everyday moments. Growing up, Muholi had no examples of Black queer couples. Being offers a positive and joyful representation of queer love.

As an overt challenge to a culture that continues to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, Muholi embarked on Brave Beauties (2014—ongoing) making photographs of empowered trans women, gender non-conforming and non-binary people. Although the poses are inspired by the visual language of magazine culture, the participants have agency in their own self-fashioning.

The portraits in Muholi’s Faces and Phases series (2006 to present) initiated a larger endeavor to create a visual archive of Black queer life for present and future generations. Each photograph is a traditional, black-and-white portrait of an individual, in which each sitter chooses their own pose, setting and dress. SFMOMA will present 36 works from this significant series now comprised of more than 500 portraits. Complemented by a selection of video interviews with participants, this growing collective portrait gives voice to members of the artist’s community and their individual stories.

Turning the camera on themself, Muholi explores self-portraiture in the deeply personal and political series from 2012 to the present titled Somnyama Ngonyama, Zulu for Hail the Dark Lioness. In these iconic photographs, Muholi experiments with taking on different personas and archetypes, transforming everyday objects into props and attire that reference South African sociopolitical history, contemporary culture or personal events from their own life.

The exhibition will also include the 2010 documentary film Difficult Love, for which Muholi was co-director with Peter Goldsmid. Highly personal, intimate and thought provoking, the film looks at the experiences of Black lesbians in South Africa through interviews with Muholi and their friends and colleagues.

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