One of South Africa’s best known artists talks about how she’s conquering the international art world on her terms.
Zanele Muholi is a self described visual activist—a gifted photographer who has reached the pinnacle of international art world success with her images of black LGBTI subjects. She is a long-time favorite of OkayAfrica’s for the uncompromising politics behind her art and the aesthetic confidence she uses to transmit her messages of inclusion and revolution.

OkayAfrica met up with her at the opening of the Zeitz MOCAA museum in Cape Town last month. She is both a major part of the museum’s collection. Her art takes up a large chunk of the gallery space, yet in the launch ceremony she stood apart—preferring not to take part in the artist group presentation in what seemed like a very conscious decision not to be used as a prop for the museum’s marketing.

We spoke to Muholi about her work with the Zeitz MOCAA and the politics of inclusion in the South African art landscape.

This interview was edited for length and clarity

OkayAfrica: How involved were you in the creation this institution?

Zanele Muholi: I’m just a contributor. I was requested to be part of this and then I have my show which is partly collected by the museum and I also donated a print to fundraise for this space.

Was that important to you on a personal level?

I came on board as an artist who portrays black LGBTI people. So, my being here is more political than anything else. It basically means that if we do not see images of black LGBTI people as members of the community, that we need to bring forward the visuals of our people. So we won’t say we were left out. It was very important to contribute towards a system that I believe in, supposedly. And it means that if I do not contribute, most of the people who are members of my community won’t be able to have access to this space. I have to make sure I’m hands on in many ways. The gallery requested a print, I donated. The gallery then collected some of my work, which then becomes a two way thing because that is much needed anyway. Read more