september 15, 2017 - Stedelijk Museum

The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam mounts the debut museum solo in the Netherlands of Zanele Muholi

The #stedelijkmuseum #amsterdam mounts the debut museum solo in the Netherlands of the South African photographer and visual activist #zanelemuholi (1972, Umlazi, Durban).

Making its Dutch premiere is Muholi’s latest series Somnyama Ngonyama(Hail the Dark Lioness, 2015 to the present). A series of self-portraits, this body of work marks a radical new step in her oeuvre. Often experimenting with dramatic poses and lighting, Zanele turns the camera on herself, capturing the multiple roles that she assumes as a black lesbian woman. Through the use of high-contrast black and white tonal values, Muholi exaggerates her skin tone to emphasize her ‘blackness’. Curator Hripsimé Visser: “Her self-portraits are profoundly confrontational yet witty, and searingly emotional, too. Through an inventive manipulation of props and lighting, Muholi creates historical, cultural and personally inspired versions of ‘blackness’. With this, she defies stereotypical images of the black woman and speaks to current debates about stigmatisation and stereotyping.”

The #stedelijkmuseum also presents a comprehensive selection of works from two other important series: Faces and Phases, and Brave Beauties. Also in the show is a projection of the documentary We Live in Fear (2013), and one of the exhibition galleries has been transformed into a documentary space for Inkanyiso, (Zulu for ‘the one who brings light’), the multi-media internet platform that #zanelemuholi founded in 2009 to create a visual history of LGBTQI communities.

For her series Faces and Phases (2006 to the present) Muholi makes emotionally charged, uncompromising portraits of lesbians. In her book of the same name, published in 2014, the images are accompanied with texts based on interviews that speak to the jeopardous reality of living in a homophobic society. Many of the photos are classic shots of self-aware yet vulnerable women and, in Zanele’s words: “comprise both a visual statement and an archive, and chronicle, map, and preserve what is often an invisible community.” In making this series, Muholi invites the women she photographs to feel like active participants in her project, and to explore their lesbian or transgender identity. Over the years, she has followed a number of her sitters, and one of the show’s centrepieces is a vast, wall-filling montage of their portraits.

As a young woman, #zanelemuholi was a hairdresser, and made the move to photography after taking the Market Photo Workshop, a photo training course established by the celebrated South African photographer David Goldblatt in Johannesburg for young students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Hair and fashion, or at least an awareness of apparel and presentation, would continue to play a key part in Muholi’s work. The photographic sequence Brave Beauties (2014 to the present) is an ode to the seductive art and extravaganza of transgenders, with explicit references to fashion and glamour shoots. In the series Somnyama Ngonyama she plays with the highly intricate African hairstyles that often correlate with culture and identity, by sporting hair creations fashioned from the most banal household items like clothes pegs or scouring sponges. This series is also ongoing, and on completion will consist of 365 self-portraits, one for each day of the year.


In the Netherlands, the work of #zanelemuholi was previously seen in group shows, and is represented in various Dutch collections, including that of the #stedelijkmuseum #amsterdam. Muholi’s self-appointed mission is: 'to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond'. She is the recipient of numerous prestigious prizes for her work and, in 2013, was awarded the Prins Claus Award. Muholi lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.


Prior to her solo exhibition at the #stedelijkmuseum, #zanelemuholi will be artist-in-residence at BijlmAIR in #amsterdam Southeast, where she will work on her most recent series of self-portraits, Somnyama Ngonyama. BijlmAIR is an artist-in-residence run by CBK Zuidoost, in partnership with #stedelijkmuseum #amsterdam and Bradwolff Projects. Every year, each of these art institutes invites an international artist to live and work in the BijlmAIR studio in #amsterdam Southeast. This year, the #stedelijkmuseum selected the South African artist #zanelemuholi.


The #stedelijkmuseum continuously presents dynamic solo exhibitions by a young generation of artists. Many of these are new productions and recent purchases that tie in with the museum’s acquisitions policy. The Stedelijk seeks to respond to current events and stimulate contemporary talent by, in some cases, also taking on the position of commissioner. Its commitment to developing lasting relationships with young artists shapes the future identity of the museum’s collection.


The Stedelijk Contemporary presentations in 2017 are made possible in part by the generous support of main benefactor Ammodo, and the International Collector Circle and the Curator Circle.


8 JUL - 15 OCT 2017

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