Zanele Muholi's Reflections on Black Queer and Trans Experiences at Southern Guild

 Zanele Muholi photography art and sculptures at Southern Guild, Los AngelesZanele Muholi, Zenzele IV, Hotel Lombardia, Milano, Italy. 2023

Since 2008, the Southern Guild in Los Angeles has represented contemporary artists from Africa and its diaspora. Zanele Muholi, a South African visual activist and photographer furthers the gallery’s mission of creating a community through culture, spirituality, and past and present stories. Muholi’s work will be on view from May 18 to July 13 with photography and sculptural pieces navigating South Africa's perceptions of Black queer and trans identities.

The artist’s work revolves around South Africa’s Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex communities to spread awareness of their resistance and negate negative associations. As the founder of Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual activists in media, and co-founder of the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW), their groundwork in activism exists boldly in their work through the use of various mediums and materials.

A highlight of the show includes Somnyama Ngonyama, an ongoing portrait series where the non-binary artist imagines themselves embodying different identities and archetypes. The portraits were produced around the world and used various materials such as hotel bed sheets, a crown made from clothesline pins, and lipstick made from toothpaste and Vaseline to transform. In the series, Muholi simultaneously becomes the maker, subject, and object to represent their self-perception as an ever-evolving creative person. The artist finds it as a way to stay present through strides of self-love, remembrance, and healing.

There will be bronze sculptural work that is more visceral, a contrast from the portraits. Muholi forwardly advocates for self-exploration, medical literacy, and LGBTQIA+ sensitive healthcare as the large-scale casts are of their genitalia and reproductive organs. For the artist, “The uterus is life’s global signature, it is a passage that is common to all of us regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and geographical location. It is a common space, it is like water - water is water, blood is blood, the womb is the womb, birth is birth…” This dialogue formed by the fabricated bronze casts of them praying or stimulating their labia is furthered through the juxtaposition of avatars of themselves in clerical robes.

The body experience as a nonbinary person is crucial as it brings attention to their personal experience with gynecological medicine. Muholi directly looks at body politics and beliefs of autonomy which historically the South African LGBTQIA+ community has been misinformed about.

A monograph published by the Southern Guild will be available at the exhibition with Muholi’s work on view and archived work.

© Zanele Muholi