Durban Art Gallery is pleased to host the solo exhibition of the world renowned photographer Zanele Muholi for the first time ever in KwaZulu Natal.

ZANELE MUHOLI – Basizeni XI, Cassilhaus, North Carolina, 2016

Zanele Muholi recently returned from New York with her take over at PERFORMA showing Somnyama Ngonyama and Brave Beauties, the artist is preparing for yet another take over; this time around it is to be witnessed in Durban, South Africa with her HOMECOMING exhibition at Durban Art Gallery which is situated at Durban City Hall. .

Muholi, is set to stage the biggest exhibition in her home city showing for the first time in history of her career in Durban. The exhibition will feature 5 bodies of work which consist of Faces and Phases, Somnyama Ngonyama, Love and Loss, Mourning and Brave Beauties.  The exhibition is set to open on the 1st of December 2017 in commemoration with World Aids Day.

This is a ground breaking solo exhibition as it is the first of its kind in Africa with solo artist showing 5 bodies of work telling different stories and occupying the entire gallery space situated at an iconic Durban City Hall.

 “I don’t want to always present tragedy from South Africa. I want to show things that are joyous, that makes a person who might have thought of the jungle think of something else.” Muholi told VOGUE in a recent interview about the diversity of her work.

The exhibition presents evolutions in the artist’s ongoing photographic projects, affirming Muholi’s commitment to activism through visual history. It adds interactive and educational elements, as well as an activism wall that shares experiences from the lives of the Brave Beauties – transwomen and gender non-binary individuals.

This exhibition invites the public to engage with the alternating brutality and joy faced by the black LGBTQI community in South Africa.

The exhibition takes place as the country reaches its 23rd year of democracy, 21 years after the entrenchment of the new South African Constitution and 11 years since the legalisation of same-sex marriage. It is a stark reminder that legal protections are not enough without the social mobilisation and transformation prompted by direct engagement, testifying to the conviction that the work of activism cannot be finished while violence persists

Brave Beauties, a photo-essay featuring transwomen, shows alongside Somnyama Ngonyama (‘Hail, the Dark Lioness’), the body of work confronting the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive through self-portraiture.

With the series Somnyama Ngonyama, I have decided to turn the camera on myself. In contrast to my life-long project of documenting members of my black LGBTI community in South Africa and beyond, one in which I normally have the privilege of witnessing participants’ presentation of themselves according to their own self-image, with this new work I have created portraits in which I am both participant and image-maker” says Muholi.

Somnyama Ngonyama (meaning ‘Hail, the Dark Lioness’) is an unflinchingly personal approach she has taken as a visual activist to confronting the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive. It is a statement of self-presentation through portraiture. The entire series also relates to the concept of MaID (‘My Identity’) or, read differently, ‘maid’, the quotidian and demeaning name given to all subservient black women in South Africa. 

“In Faces and Phases I present our existence and resistance through positive imagery of black queers (especially lesbians) in South African society and beyond. I show our aesthetics through portraiture. Historically, portraits serve as memorable records for lovers, family and friends.” Says Muholi about Faces and Phases.

Faces express the person, and Phases signify the transition from one stage of sexuality or gender expression and experience to another. Faces is also about the face-to-face confrontation between myself as the photographer/activist and the many lesbians, women and transmen I have interacted with from different places. Photographs in this series traverse spaces from KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Cape Town to London and Toronto, and include the townships of Umlazi, Inanda,  Alexandra, Soweto, Vosloorus, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Katlehong and Kagiso to name a few.

For Muholi, MO(U)RNING evokes death but also suggests the cycle of life as morning follows night. Life and death, love and hate are some of the antitheses that appear throughout her work.

In MO(U)RNING, Muholi presents elements of her documentation that were not lost, together with new work realised in recent months. The exhibition will include new and recent photographs from her Faces and Phases series of portraits.

About Love & Loss; since 2013 Muholi has been documenting weddings and funerals in the black LGBTI community in South Africa, joyful and painful events that often seem to go hand in hand. The show features photographs, video works and an installation highlighting how manifestations of sorrow and celebration bear similarities and are occasions to underline the need for a safe space to express individual identities.


Muholi is a visual activist. She was born in 1972 in Umlazi, Durban, and lives in Johannesburg. She co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002, and in 2009 founded Inkanyiso (, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media.

Muholi’s self-proclaimed mission is ‘to re-write 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 SA and beyond’. She continues to train and co-facilitates photography workshops for young women in the townships.

Muholi studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and in 2009 completed an MFA: Documentary Media at Ryerson University, Toronto. She is an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts/Hochschule für Künste Bremen.

Muholi has won numerous awards including the ICP Infinity Award for Documentary and Photojournalism (2016); Africa’Sout! Courage and Creativity Award (2016); the Outstanding International Alumni Award from Ryerson University (2016); the Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the 2013 Carnegie International; a Prince Claus Award (2013); the Index on Censorship – Freedom of Expression art award (2013); and the Casa Africa award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography (2009). Muholi is listed in the 2016 ArtReview Power 100.

Her Faces and Phases series has shown at Documenta 13; the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale; and the 29th São Paulo Biennial. Solo exhibitions have taken place at institutions including the Mead Art Museum, Amherst; Gallatin Galleries, New York; Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Akershus Kunstsenter, Norway; Einsteinhaus, Ulm; Schwules Museum, Berlin; Williams College Museum of Art.