Zanele Muholi Exhibition at Tate Modern

The latest exhibition to show at Tate Modern is a retrospective of works by South African activist Zanele Muholi. The acclaimed photographer has campaigned for 20 years in support of the LGBTQIA+ communities in South Africa where, despite the 1996 Constitution outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation, hate crimes and violence, it continues.  The exhibition contains works from the different series that make up Muholi’s oeuvre: Only Half the Picture documents survivors of hate crimes; Being captures the moments of intimacy between couples, their daily life and routines; and Queering Public Space features transgender women, gay men, and gender non-conforming people photographed in public spaces. 

Brave Beauties portrays trans women, gender non-conforming and non-binary people, many of whom are beauty pageant contestants who enter the pageants to change mindsets in their communities. Collectivity sees Muholi work with members of a collective called Inkanyiso, which uses the motto ‘Queer Activism = Queer Media’. Faces and Places is an ongoing series that began in 2006 and forms the main feature of the exhibition with stunning black and white portraits; many of which, are the result of a long and sustained relationship with the sitters. Somnyama Nonyama, is another ongoing series in which Muholi turns the camera on themselves to create powerful dark portraits taken in different locations around the world and featuring materials and objects from the surroundings.

Overall the exhibition conveys a powerful message raising awareness of ongoing injustices in South Africa, and by extension, around the world, affecting the LGBTQIA+ communities.  The photographs are thought-provoking and hauntingly beautiful. Metro Imaging, who scanned, printed and framed the exhibition, described the exhibition as “…one of the most important contemporary collections that we have ever had the pleasure of working on.”


The exhibition is scheduled to run until 6 June 2021. Further information can be found on the Tate Modern website.

Review and photography by Ian Gillett

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