biography Zanele Muholi

zanele muholi

Zanele Muholi is a visual activist born in Umlazi, Durban, in 1972, and currently living in Cape Town.
Prior to her photographic journeys into black female sexualities and genders in Africa, she worked as a human/lesbian rights activist with members in her community, raising the many issues facing black lesbian women living in South Africa today. She worked as a reporter and photographer for Behind the Mask (, an LGBTI website, bearing witness to countless acts of violent hate crimes against many of her friends and community members. She later researched and documented early cases of hate crimes. In 2002, she co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW,, a black lesbian organization based in Gauteng, dedicated to providing a safe space for women loving women to meet and organize. She then spent more than three years researching and documenting hate crimes in order to bring the realities of ‘curative rape’, assault, HIV and brutal murders of black lesbians to public attention.
Muholi completed an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown in 2003, and held her first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004. Between 2007 and 2009, she studied for her MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University in Toronto, producing a thesis that maps the visual history of black lesbian identity and politics in post-apartheid South Africa. In 2009, she received a Fanny Ann Eddy accolade from IRN-Africa for outstanding contributions to the study and advocacy of sexualities in Africa. Also in 2009 Muholi was a Jean-Paul Blachère award-winner at the Rencontres de Bamako, African Photography Biennial, also winning the Casa Africa award for best female photographer living in Africa. Two books have been published on her work: Only Half the Picture (2006) and Faces & Phases (2010). She has contributed her photography to many queer and art publications and academic journals.

Muholi's work has featured on numerous exhibitions including the 29th São Paulo Biennial, Brazil (2010); Figures and Fictions: Contemporary South African photography at the V&A Museum, London (2011); Face of Our Time II at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2011); Appropriated Landscapes at the Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm/Burlafingen, Germany (2011); and Lesbians Seeing Lesbians at the Leslie/Lohman Gallery in New York (2011).
Her award-winning documentary Difficult Love (2010) has shown at, among others, the InsideOUT film festival, Toronto; CinemAfrica Film Festival, Sweden; the 26th Gay/Lesbian Film Festival, Torino, Italy; Afrykamera film festival, Poland; the Stockholm Pride festival, Sweden; the film festival of Douarnenez, France; the Tri Continental film festival, South Africa; Africa in the Picture film festival, Amsterdam; and Side by Side film festival, St Petersburg, Russia.