Zanele Muholi • Docteur honoris causa • Academic year 2023-2024

South African photographer and LGBTQIA+ activist

Zanele Muholi is a South African visual artist and photographer who, for over 25 years, has been documenting the lives of black and LGBTQIA+ people and bearing witness to the violence, inequality and discrimination to which they are still subjected in post-apartheid South African society, in a country where the Constitution protects the rights of these people.

 iconeInfo A lecture-debate by Zanele Muholi was organised on 19 September 2023 at 11 a.m., as part of the ULiège academic year. Access the replay of the lecture

MUHOLI ZAfter growing up in a townshipon the outskirts of Durban, Zanele Muholi moved to Johannesburg at the age of 19, where in 2002 she enrolled at the Market Photo Workshop, a school founded by renowned South African photographer David Goldblatt. This two-year advanced training course was a major turning point during which the artist, who defines himself as non-binary, set out the principles of his photographic approach in absolute correlation with his commitment to South Africa's LGBTQIA+ community. As a "visual activist", Zanele Muholi is developing an important open visual archive, with black queer women as its main subject.

In 2006, Zanele Muholi embarked on an ambitious project entitled Faces and Phases, " Faces " referring to people and " Phases " to the different phases in the construction of their identity. Emblematic of her approach, this constantly evolving series today comprises some 300 portraits of women, met throughout the country, with whom Zanele Muholi wishes to establish "a relationship based on mutual understanding".

Captured at different moments in their lives, these models are all photographed according to the same principle, imposed by the artist: bust, front or three-quarter, framed at equal distance, indoors or outdoors, in black and white, without artifice, decor or costume. With this unique collection, Zanele Muholi gives visibility to black South African homosexual women, revealing their presence and offering them the opportunity to assert their difference and singularity in the eyes of the world. But beyond the social documentary, these images, with their obvious sincerity, impose themselves in a face-to-face encounter of rare intensity with the viewer.

" I don't make art, I put art into practice. And visual art is a means of action. The camera has become the weapon with which I speak, with which I demand attention ", says Zanele Muholi in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde on February 8, 2023, on the occasion of the retrospective of her work organized at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.

Zanele Muholi obtained a Master of Fine Arts in Documentary at Ryerson University in Toronto, and taught video and photography at the Bremen University of the Arts in Germany.

Zanele Muholi's unwavering commitment is expressed in exhibitions around the world, publications and conferences, as well as in the making of documentaries, including Difficult Love (2010), the creation of a forum for women's empowerment and a multimedia platform for artists.

Today, Zanele Muholi is regarded as a major figure in South Africa's art scene and activism, embodying the first political moment in art after the end of apartheid, and leading a new generation of artists to whom he has undeniably paved the way.


© Photo : Zanele Muholi - Ohawe, Umbumbulu, KwaZulu Natal, 2020 - Courtesy of the artist - © Zanele Muholi - English translation: 

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