A Visual Activist for the Unseen Faces of the LGBTQ+ Community - Zanele Muholi


MaID I by Zanele Muholi


In this day and age, diversity is praised rather than frowned upon. Individuals worldwide are progressively becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. This global attitude shift can be credited to the extensive influence that the media has in our everyday lives. Zanele Muholi in particular, a filmmaker and photographer, wholeheartedly acknowledges this fact, primarily using photography as a platform to shed light on social injustices revolving around the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa, her homeland.


"We deserve recognition, respect, validation, and to have publications that mark and trace our existence" ~ Zanele Muholi


Zanele Muholi was born in Umlazi, South Africa in 1972. Muholi self-identifies as a visual activist since she considers her work to be political rather than for show or for play. Muholi's works showcase the diversity of all communities, specifically the South African community, and document the emotional and physical state of her models, ranging from survivors of hate crimes and heinous curative rape to joyous and proud individuals. Her photographs are often deemed sensitive since they strongly challenge the stigma surrounding African members of the LGBTQ+ community and the predominant belief that "homosexuality is un-African". Muholi always seeks to form strong relationships with her models, allowing her photographs to take on a more raw, meaningful account of their experiences and hardships.


Faces and Phases ~ 2006 to present

"As black South Africans, especially lesbians, we don’t have much visual history that speaks to pressing issues, both current and also in the past" ~ Zanele Muholi


A famous ongoing project of Zanele Muholi is her Faces and Phases project, a striking collection of images of South African lesbians exhibited tightly in grids. Currently, the archive contains around three hundred portraits, a number that continues to grow. Muholi firmly believes that anything undocumented will be forever unknown and invisible. By documenting and collecting photos of individuals from the South African lesbian community, Mulholi was able to create a visual history of a previously invisible community and promote awareness around the marginalization of South African lesbians in her home country.

Forum for the Empowerment of Women ~ 2006

In 2002, Zanele Muholi helped establish the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), an organization that helps black lesbian feminists partake in advocacy and education. FEW is responsible for optimizing and ensuring the well-being and well-deserved freedom of black lesbians. FEW is also responsible for bringing issues of violence, discrimination, and marginalization into the eyes of the government, putting tremendous pressure on the government to take ownership of regulating these bigotries. Currently, FEW is establishing the Rainbow Activist Alliance (RAA), a network of fifteen community-based LGBTQ+ organizations from different parts of South Africa that work together to "create safer communities, ensure access to appropriate public health care, ensure non-discrimination within the criminal justice system, and build black lesbian leadership".

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