Zanele Muholi (Born 19 July 1972 in Umlazi, Durban) is a South African photographer and visual activist. Zanele Muholi is a visual activist who tries to bring light to the importance of black lesbian women in South Africa. Through her artistic approach she hopes to capture the journey of the african queer community so that one day future generations can look back and be able to see all that they went through. She tries to capture the moment without viewing any negativity or violence but yet portrays the LGBTI community as a whole to help bring the community and non LGBTI persons together
“Photography gives me so much joy and completion”- Zanele Muholi
Expressing your feelings about a certain issue is commonly applied through verbal or written words. The energetic, vibrant, brave, people loving and caring visual activist receive her fulfilment from photography. Let us hear what Zanele Muholi is describing herself and her work through their talk with Donsy Kunene.
Her own words
What is your photography about?
It is about addressing social prejudice tackling the subject of LGBTI rights in South Africa and across the world in order to redefine the stereotypes associated with gender, feminism, race and homosexuality. It is meant to increase the visibility of gay and transgender individuals in black communities through portraits and videos.
What do you want to achieve through photography?
My photography seeks to change the cultural conversation in countries like South Africa and beyond.
I want to be counted in South African History, let our children and grandchildren read about us and proudly say my grandma and granddad were Gay. I want us to make history.
How do you handle criticism on your photography?
Criticism encourages helps me to improve my game it tells me not to stop. It also tells me that people are reading and they are loving the material they are reading or looking at, people won’t criticize something they don’t care about. If you have any issues with my photography it means you are telling me to keep on doing it because you are watching and others are doing the same, so it makes me happy.
Other than that, I am not doing this to be loved I am pushing the agenda I am not doing anyone any favours. If I get angry at criticism how long can I do that?
Our lives are informing lot of people they learn from us, we are a group of very fascinating beautiful individuals.
How do you feel about yourself with so much recognition?
The recognition that I receive is not about me but the work that I do is about South African history that is not much documented. All the shine and the glory are for everyone who is recognised as gay. If the person is recognised for the good work it is the good thing. There is no me without people who contribute to what I do. The recognition I receive around the globe is for all the Black LGBTIQ community as a whole.
The work that I do is not about me but everyone who is part of the work that I do and whoever associate him or self with the projects. I believe in giving every individual a chance to shine, empowering people I love especially those I work with. I have my own floss I am not super perfect I am human anyway. I do not like it when people are getting lazy. To be a gay person does not give you a ticket to be felt sorry for no special treatment everyone must stand up and work.
What is that one goal you have not achieved yet?
To have a Women Photography School, I want to see lots of women photographers in South Africa, sharing and producing work that speaks to the whole Nation. As well as to undo the whole notion of making women a subject. We have a living experience-life experiences around the globe to have the full understanding of who South Africans are to our children, partners, and girlfriend’s lovers. We have so much to give as female body, blood that we share every month to the period pains that we have to bear.
Which Country you feel safe to be at where there is least discrimination?
I feel safe in my own Country, my Country of birth, South Africa!! I feel safe and secure in my own country than anywhere else in the world. I love my country, I was born here and I will die and be buried here. I can’t look at what other people are doing and experiencing or what is happening in their own spaces because I don’t know the realities behind.
South Africa – I know the place, I know the language, attitudes of some people who are part and parcel of this country, I understand bit of tradition if a person say he is homophobic in African language I will quickly know and understand other than foreign languages people might put it in a different way.
I was born and grew up in Durban, Umlazi I cannot change that so why should I feel unsafe. Whether there are challenges I face as a person and as the LGBTI community, I don’t want to say it is the worst place, we are South Africans, instead of going away let us face the challenges and claim what is ours. I cannot change that I belong here. When we go out of our country let us do that by choice not by force.
Where do you feel South is still lacking in advocating for LGBTIQ Community?
There is a lack in education on LGBTI in all department. We have to talk about so many issues through Government accommodating our Community i.e.
Religion, Sexual orientation, Lesbian Mothers, Complex Family setup, Health Workers, Home Affairs, SAPS, School kids for homosexuals, the list is endless infact we have not done anything. We have to tackle these issue and ensure that our Government with all its departments does have education around these issues in full honesty.
Tell us about Inkanyiso.org
The organisation was founded in 2009, Inkanyiso.org is a non-funded organisation born as a result of the lack of reality in reporting by the mainstream. I felt that what I read about in the mainstream does not speak to me as a person. I invited some few individuals that are in my photography to come on board and some interesting people that I know that they have talent. I ask people to write what they like without swearing at anyone. The whole point is to have the queer media that is driven and produced by us for us without or by people who support us without any qualms. It depends on what I like to read about or what I have not read about then I ask people to write. It has grown tremendously because of the content, people love reading.
To all the activists, gender activists, visual activists, queer artists, writers, poets, performers, art activists, organic intellectuals who use all art forms of expressions in South Africa. The war is not over till we reach an end to ‘curative rapes’ and brutal killing of black lesbians, gays and transpersons in South Africa.
“The subjects of her photographs are shown fearless, staring defiantly at the camera, while viewers are invited to confront their own preconceptions about race, sexuality and gender.” M&G
Zanele Muholi is a founder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, a non-profit organization based in Johannesburg that provides social and political support to black lesbians and transsexuals, and has worked as a photographer and reporter for Behind the Mask, an online magazine covering lesbian and gay issues in Africa.
Muholi completed the advanced photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, South Africa, in 2004. Her photographs frequently take the black female body as their subject, revealing a closeness and familiarity that is often overlooked in conventional documentary photography. Her sensual portrayals of physicality explore gay sexuality and intimacy as well as the emotional displacement and marginalization among this population in South Africa. Muholi has also produced two documentaries addressing these issues: Enraged by a Picture (2005) and Difficult Love (2010).