Muholi’s powerful portraits of LGBT people in her community is stunning art and makes the invisible visible to us. Her work gives us a sense of the reality of who the people in her portraits are, as they look at us. She is referred to as a visual activist and that certainly expresses itself in her work. We are looking at vivid powerful images of people she cares deeply about. I know that part of my deep response to her work is that I am also, in my way, a portrait artist and a visual activist.
Collen Mfazwe – August House, Johannesburg
In Faces and Phases, Zanele Muholi embarks on a journey of “visual activism” to ensure black queer and transgender visibility. Despite South Africa’s progressive Constitution and 20 years of democracy, black lesbians and transgender men remain the targets of brutal hate crimes and so-called corrective rapes. Taken over the past eight years, the more than 250 portraits in this book, accompanied by moving testimonies, present a compelling statement about the lives and struggles of these individuals. They also comprise an unprecedented and invaluable archive: marking, mapping and preserving an often invisible community for posterity
Charmain Carrol – Parktown, Johannesburg
Quotes below are from Erica Schwiegershausen’s article in NY Magazine:
For the past eight years, South African photographer and visual activist Zanele Muholi has taken portraits of queer and transgender individuals in her community. Her project began in 2006, when she first photographed her friend and colleague Busisiwe Sigasa, a poet and activist who was suffering from AIDS she’d contracted from a “corrective rape” — which remains a brutal and prevalent hate crime in South Africa. Eight months later, Sigasa died. She was 25.
“I’ve lost friends, and I wanted to remember my friends as beautiful as they were when I interacted with them,” Muholi told the Cut. After Sigasa’s death, she continued photographing LGBTI friends, colleagues, and acquaintances living in and around Johannesburg and Cape Town. The resulting collection — which was first exhibited at the Yancey Richardson Gallery in 2013 — now includes more than 250 portraits, which comprise her latest book, Faces and Phases: 2006–2014.
Lebo Ntladi – NewTown, Johannesburg
In a country where LGBTI individuals remain frequent targets of hate crimes and violence, Muholi’s work aims to increase visibility of gay and transgender experiences there. “I wanted to fill a gap in South Africa’s visual history that, even ten years after the fall of Apartheid, wholly excluded our very existence,” she writes in the book’s introduction. A collection of portraits, poems, and personal essays, Faces and Phases provides a sobering testament to the suffering and strength of its subjects. “I think it’s the first book of its kind in Africa that features black lesbians in a positive way,” Muholi told the Cut.
“My photography is therapy to me,” Muholi writes. “I want to project publicly, without shame, that we are bold, black, beautiful/handsome, proud individuals. It heals me to know that I am paving the way for others who, in wanting to come out, are able to look at the photographs, read the biographies, and understand that they are not alone.”
What she said – look at the slide show. See them all.