Zanele Muholi is world’s most powerful female African artist

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Zanele Muholi (pic: David Penney)

Zanele Muholi, South Africa’s groundbreaking lesbian photographer and activist, has been named one of the 100 most powerful artists in the world.

Making her debut at number 95 in this year’s ArtReview magazine’s annual Power 100 list, Muholi’s ranking makes her the most influential female African artist.

The Johannesburg based visual activist has made a name for herself by documenting the lives of the LGBTI community – primarily black lesbian women – for almost two decades.

According to ArtReview, she is at “the forefront of both celebrating the existence of, and campaigning against the violence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities in her native South Africa and beyond”.

Her work has been exhibited around the world and she’s received numerous local and international awards and accolades.

“With work in this year’s Berlin Biennale and at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival; a cocurating gig at Maja Hoffmann’s LUMA Foundation in the same city; and group shows and lectures lined up in the US, Norway and Mauritius, Muholi is making sure her message is being heard,” said the magazine.

Speaking to Mambaonline last month to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her still growing Faces and Phases portrait series, Muholi explained that much of the focus of her work is to make LGBTI people visible.

“Visibility for LGBTI people should be like … food and water! We can’t only be visible when it’s Pride because we don’t live our lives for just one day of the year. We exist 365 days, throughout the whole year. And this visibility needs not even to be negotiated; it needs to be part of the society,” she said.

Muholi went on to describe herself as “just a human being living in the world – passionate about photography, pushing the visual activism in ways that I know how to; that’s what makes me happy”.

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