Muholi came of age — and came out — as the country's apartheid policies were falling apart. In 1996, post-segregation South Africa became the first country to draft a constitution explicitly forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation. Despite this progressive legal stance, wrote Jenna Wortham in a 2015 New York Times article
, anti-gay hate crimes have been pervasive, and many of the country's lesbians are still subjected to "corrective rape."
On Wednesday, April 19, at 7 p.m., Muholi will offer a lecture at Saint Michael's College in Colchester in conjunction with an exhibition of four distinct bodies of work. "Documenting Identity, Teaching Activism
" is on view at the college's International Commons through April 21.
The show features a selection of solemn black-and-white portraits from Muholi's early "Faces & Phases" series, documentary photographs of the mourning of hate-crime victims, vibrant fashion-spread-esque portraits of performer Miss D'Vine, and more recent self-portraits from the artist's dramatically beautiful "Somnyama Ngonyama," or "Hail the Dark Lioness," series.
Muholi characterizes her work as "rewriting a black, queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond."
Muholi's exhibition was organized and curated by Micalee Sullivan, coordinator for the Center for Women and Gender at St. Mike's. Sullivan was supported in large part by funds from the vanderHeyden Fund for the Arts, named for the college's former president.
The show constitutes a major art coup for a relatively small academic institution; Muholi's work has been shown at the Guggenheim Bilbao, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Brooklyn Museum, among many others. She is included in the recently released paradigmatic volume Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze
by Charlotte Jansen.
Zanele Muholi is an internationally renowned photographer and self-described visual activist who has made her career taking portraits of members of South Africa's queer community.