South African Photographer Highlights Black Lesbian Love

Zanele Muholi's work provides groundbreaking alternative perspectives and representations of the marginalized community.

Posted: 06/09/2014 05:30 PM EDT

“We have same-sex marriages, and we have these hate crimes taking place every month,” photographer Zanele Muholi said about the current situation for South Africa’s LGBT community. “Both events bring tears.”

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Muholi shared how she became the foremost chronicler of Black lesbians and transgender people in her African homeland. Her continuous critique of how lesbians are represented in South African culture and history initially stemmed from her perceptive nature as a young girl. 

“You could barely find any positive images of Black lesbians,” she said. “You questioned, why is there no one like me in the media, why are we not producing these images, and who are we waiting for to do it for us?”

Whether staring directly into the camera or caressing a lover, each of the subjects in Muholi’s photographs are captured in vulnerable and intimate moments. The body also plays a central role in a large part of her work, which she credits for a major part of her self-discovery and sexuality. 

In addition to studio work, Muholi has also founded an activist organization called Inkanyiso in 2008 and will be releasing Difficult Love, a documentary on Black lesbian experiences that she co-directed, next year. 

While South Africa is the only African country to have legalized same-sex marriage and established equal rights for its inhabitants regardless of their sexual orientation or gender, a number of human rights organizations and activists continue to report high rates of homophobia and violence against Black lesbians and transgender men across the nation. 

“It is one thing to say we exist; it is another thing to show it,” Muholi said. "Art is political, art is about activism.”

She also pointed out her desire to go beyond the art, to contest the notions of “African homosexuality” and “undo visibility about what we look like.”

“You can’t change the laws without changing the images."

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 (Photo: GERARD JULIEN/AFP/GettyImages)

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