Watch Zanele Muholi photograph LGBTQI South Africans to challenge silence and stigma

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“Can I own my voice? Can I own myself? Because my mother never had the opportunity to own her own voice until she died.

These questions posed by South African artist Zanele Muholi are central to their ongoing photographic projects that provide a visual platform for marginalized LGBTQI people in South Africa.

In a new exhibition at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum titled “Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance,” the artist’s striking black-and-white self-portraits and images of women in their native South Africa are helping to foster acceptance of blackness and queerness in all its forms. The exhibition brings together portraits from series like ‘Brave Beauties’, documenting the artist’s ‘chosen family’, with Muholi’s new body of colorful paintings created during the pandemic.

Visitors to the Tate pose in front of a photographic self-portrait from an ongoing series titled ‘Somnyama Ngonyama’ by South African visual activist Zanele Muholi during a press view of an exhibition at the Tate Modern gallery in London on November 3, 2020. Photo by HOLLIE ADAMS/AFP via Getty Images.

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s “Art in the 21st Century” series, Muholi traveled to Johannesburg and Cape Town to document members of the LGBTQI community facing violence and social stigma.

I photograph different LGBTI people, risking my life, challenging the myth that being gay, being trans is not African,” Muholi said.

The artist emphasizes the importance of visual documents, creating an archive of survivors who persist, despite the challenges they face. “You can’t say people have a right to exist without the visuals we produce about us,” Muholi said. “A mere image of a queer being in space is political.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s “Art in the 21st Century” series, below. “Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance” is on view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from February 10 to May 8, 2022.

This is an episode of “Art on Video”, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips from artists who are making the news. A new series of Art21’s flagship series, Art in the Twenty-First Century, is now available on PBS. Watch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and discover the organization’s educational programs on Art21.org.

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