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Tate visitors pose in front of a self portrait photograph from an ongoing series entitled

‘Can I Own My Own Voice?’: Watch Zanele Muholi Photograph LGBTQI South Africans to Combat Silencing and Stigma

“Can I own my voice? Can I own me? Because my mother never had an opportunity to own her own voice until she died.”

These questions posed by South African artist Zanele Muholi are at the core of their ongoing photographic projects that give a visual platform to marginalized LGBTQI people in South Africa. 

In a new exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston titled “Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance,” the artist’s striking black-and-white self-portraits and images of women in their native South Africa help to further an acceptance of Blackness and queerness in all its forms. The show brings together portraits from series like “Brave Beauties,” documenting the artist’s “chosen family,” with Muholi’s new body of colorful paintings created during the pandemic.

Tate visitors pose in front of a self portrait photograph from an ongoing series entitled

Tate visitors pose in front of a self portrait photograph from an ongoing series entitled “Somnyama Ngonyama” by South African visual activist Zanele Muholi during a press view of an exhibition at the Tate Modern gallery in London on November 3, 2020. Photo by HOLLIE ADAMS/AFP via Getty Images.

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s “Art in the Twenty-First Century” series, Muholi traveled around Johannesburg and Cape Town documenting members of the LGBTQI community who face violence and social stigma.

I photograph different LGBTI individuals, risking my life, challenging the myth that says being gay, being trans is un-African,” Muholi said. 

The artist stresses the importance of visual documents, creating an archive of survivors who persist, despite the challenges they face. “You can’t say people have a right to exist without visuals that are produced by us on us,” Muholi said. “A simple image of a queer being in space, that’s political.”

 


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