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Tate Modern to hold first major UK exhibition of South African photographer

By Lucille Adutwum-Brobbey
January 14 2020, 16.04

London’s Tate Modern announced last week it will hold the first major UK exhibition of works by a native South African photographer later this year.

The gallery will present the work of 47-year-old visual Artist Zanele Muholi from April 29 through to October 18 2020. 

The black, queer, non-binary activist – who uses they, them, their pronouns – gained traction in the early 2000s.

Their photographs depict the narrative of black LGBTQIA+ people specifically focusing on the experience of those living in South Africa as members of the community at the time.


Zanele Muholi Ntozakhe II, Parktown 2016. Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York (c) Zanele Muholi

Tate Modern Senior Curator Dr Yasufumi Nakamori said: “We know so little about the hardships that black South African LGBTQIA+ individuals face in their daily lives, let alone the heinous hate and other crimes committed against them.

“Their experiences and voices need to be shared and heard outside South Africa.”

Dr Nakamori explained the gallery would like to introduce Muholi and their community to people in the UK and hopes the exhibition will prompt visitors to think about how to improve the circumstances that this community and minority groups go through.

LGBT+ support worker Tracey Dwamenah, 24, had not come across Muholi’s work previously.

However on being presented with a few examples, specifically their monochromatic work, she was impressed.

Ms Dwamenah said: “Their work could definitely empower the black LGBT+ community as we aren’t well represented in the arts and media.

“It will also allow people from the LGBT community to see that there are individuals like them everywhere around the world.”

Ms Dwamenah added that Muholi’s use of everyday people in their purest form is very relatable and allows the viewer to see their authentic self.

Zanele Muholi, ID Crisis 2003. Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York (c) Zanele Muholi

In total, 260 photographs have been assembled in order to present a wide range of pictures taken by the artist throughout the years from her first body of work Only Half the Picture to the daring and dramatic self-portraits titled Somnyama Ngonyama (‘Hail the Dark Lioness’ in Zulu), their continuing series.

Other key works which will be shown at the exhibition from Muholi include Brave Beauties, which honours non-binary and trans women and Being, photographs of couples which challenge stereotypes.

Photographs like Melissa Mbambo, Durban aim to take back public spaces for black and LGBT communities, such as a beach in Durban, South Africa which was segregated racially during apartheid.

Actress and LGBT+ ally Pia Hagen, 22, said: “I am glad the Tate is presenting this major exhibition of their photography. 

She added: “Zanele’s images are one’s of power, defiance, diversity and blackness. Their work shows resistance to the continuous erasure of queer people in South Africa.

“The strength it would take to put these themes into their work and photograph LGBTQIA+ people in post apartheid South Africa is not something that all of us have and is something we can all take inspiration from.”

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