Zanele Muholi (born 1972) is a South African photographer and visual activist who focuses on documenting the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa. While same-sex marriage was legalized in South Africa in 2006, queer women still face a tremendous amount of discrimination and violence. Muholi began documenting the LGBTQ+ community as a reaction to an escalation of homophobic hate crimes, with the goal of using photography to “normalize and quell fears of queerness, and in doing so, make life safer for women like her.”1

Muholi has stated that while she is inspired by photographers like Nan Goldin, she “longed for something that was black.” In the 2013 female nude pictured here, from her i-jusi Portfolio, Muholi draws on the visual tradition of the reclining female nude, but portrays a body very different from the arbitrary ideal of thin, white, sexually available nudes in high art. Throughout the series, she portrays this unconventional body with empathy and grace, through gentle lighting and coloring of the images.

Muholi, while South African, shares some of the strategies that Lisa Farrington describes in the work of American women of color, who

relentlessly battle the imagery and the attitudes that have refused to let them forget. As weapons, they use new visual archetypes designed to dispel society’s resolute insistence upon their ugliness, their acquiescence, and their silence. African-American [KS2] women artists have retrieved the nude and infused it with personal and universal meanings. They have discovered ways to remake and re-present their own naked images free from patriarchal and imperial associations and, as makers of their own bodies, they have created compounding exemplars, not of the “other” but of the “self.”2


1. Jenna Wortham, “Zanele Muholi’s Transformations,” New York Times Magazine, October 8, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/magazine/zanele-muholis-transformations.html.
2. Lisa Farrington, "Reinventing Herself: The Black Female Nude," Woman's Art Journal 24 (2003): 15-23.

Zanele Muholi, South African, born 1972
Untitled (female nude); from The i-jusi Portfolio Number 3: South African Photographs
Gelatin silver print on Baryta Fibre 300g archival paper
7 5/16 x 10 5/8 in.
Lent by Andrew E. Lewin; EL.2013.67.10
© Zanele Muholi