Zanele Muholi, Nokuthula Dhladhla, Berea, Johannesburg, 2007, from the series Faces and Phases (2006–ongoing). Gelatin silver print, 34 × 24 inches (86.4 × 61 cm). Acquired through the generosity of the General Acquisition Fund and the Acquisitions Circle. Courtesy of the artist; Yancey Richardson, New York; and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg. © Zanele Muholi
Nokuthula Dhladhla, Berea, Johannesburg, 2007
Dee Mashoko, Harare, Zimbabwe, 2011
Hlomela Msesele, Makhaza, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, 2011
Lynette Mokhooa, KwaThema Community Hall, Springs, Johannesburg, 2011
Collen Mfazwe, August House, Johannesburg, 2012
Charmain Carrol, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2013
Debora Dlamini, KwaThema Community Hall, Springs, Johannesburg, 2013
Ricki Kgositau, Melville, Johannesburg, 2013
Karabo Sebetoane I, Parktown, 2016
As a photographer and filmmaker, Zanele Muholi considers themselves to be a visual activist dedicated to creating an archive of Black queer life in South Africa, where legal and social biases affect the livelihoods of LGBTQI+ individuals.
Muholi’s Faces and Phases, an ongoing gelatin silver print portraiture series begun in 2006, reflects the artist’s mission to uplift Black queer South African communities. The series—including over three hundred individual gelatin silver prints to date—archives new horizons in queer self-representation, as the sitters choose their posture, setting, and dress. “The viewer,” Muholi writes, “is invited to contemplate questions such as: What does an African lesbian look like? Is there a lesbian aesthetic or do we express our gendered, racialized, and classed selves in rich and diverse ways?” Additionally, the artist maintains relationships with many of their sitters, often photographing interested participants over multiple years. By portraying queer subjects in an ongoing, positive relationship to their own agency and visibility over time, Faces and Phases records resilience amid the violence and oppression experienced by many Black queer individuals in South Africa, and offers a testament to the rich diversity of Black queer life.