The Contemporary Art Society has acquired 11 portraits by South African photographer Zanele Muholi (they/them) from the series Faces and Phases (2006 – present) through the Collections Fund at Frieze. The subjects of the series are black lesbian, trans and gender non-conforming South Africans who Muholi captures in stark black and white.
The photographs are highly political in line with Muholi’s role as a “visual activist”, yet deeply personal, often involving friends of the artist. They empower their sitters by granting them the dignity of presenting themselves to the world as they would like to be seen.
For Muholi, the act of mapping and preserving the presence of the LGBTQ+ community is one of resistance against oppression and the threat of violence. Despite the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2006, discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community remains commonplace and severe, therefore Muholi’s sitters participate in the work at great personal risk.
Muholi responds to the absence of black LGBTQ+ people from South Africa’s visual history using documentation and the commemorative power of portraiture. Of the eleven portraits that CAS has acquired two are of sitters that have since passed away. The series memorialises their loss and celebrates their lives.
The portraits attempt to widen the scope of South Africa’s photographic history by including people that have long been marginalised. In doing so, the work presents a continuing struggle for visibility and acceptance amidst threat. The acquisition of the works for Nottingham Castle Museum will build on the Castle’s existing history of protest, contributing a global perspective and a focus on the discrimination and violence faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
Zanele Muholi (b.1972, Umlazi, South Africa). Recent exhibitions include May You Live in Interesting Times, the 58th Venice Biennale (2019) and solo shows at the Seattle Art Museum (2019); Colby Museum of Art, Maine (2019) and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta (2018). They have an upcoming solo exhibition at the Tate Modern from 29th April 2020 – 10th October 2020.