Zanele Muholi’s Tate Exhibition Shows Us the Power of Photography in Activism

Zanele Muholi, Bona, Charlottesville, 2015. Courtesy of the artist; Stevenson, Cape Town / Johannesburg; and Yancey Richardson, New York.

Zanele Muholi has become one of South Africa’s premiere artists, with their signature photographs melding both portraiture and activism on behalf of LGBTQIA+ African subjects. In this feature by Charlotte Jansen for Artsy, Muholi’s photographs take center stage with their message of both pain and possibility as their art is currently on show at the Tate. Focusing on the enduring trait of witnessing in Muholi’s artistic practice, Jansen notes the ways in which the photographer collaborates with their subject to document lives both imperiled and intimate.

“Muholi’s form of visual activism depends on the power of photography. They harness the unique capacity a photograph has to stop us in our tracks, and the way it can hold entire histories in its four corners. Presenting their work like this, in institutions like the Tate, means that their activism can go beyond the now—and in this way, it can endure longer and reach wider than any placard or protest, for generations to come.” - Charlotte Jansen