Muholi is a visual activist. She was born in 1972 in Umlazi, Durban, and lives in Johannesburg. She co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002, and in 2009 founded Inkanyiso (www.inkanyiso.org), a forum for queer and visual (activist) media.
Muholi’s self-proclaimed 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 continues to train and co-facilitates photography workshops for young women in the townships.
Muholi studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and in 2009 completed an MFA: Documentary Media at Ryerson University, Toronto. She is an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts/Hochschule für Künste Bremen.
Muholi has won numerous awards including the ICP Infinity Award for Documentary and Photojournalism (2016); Africa'Sout! Courage and Creativity Award (2016); the Outstanding International Alumni Award from Ryerson University (2016); the Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the 2013 Carnegie International; a Prince Claus Award (2013); the Index on Censorship - Freedom of Expression art award (2013); and the Casa Africa award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography (2009). Muholi is listed in the 2016 ArtReview Power 100.
Her Faces and Phases series has shown at Documenta 13; the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale; and the 29th São Paulo Biennial. Solo exhibitions have taken place at institutions including the Mead Art Museum, Amherst; Gallatin Galleries, New York; Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Akershus Kunstsenter, Norway; Einsteinhaus, Ulm; Schwules Museum, Berlin; Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown and Casa Africa, Las Palmas. The Somnyama Ngonyama series has been recently exhibited in solo shows at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Autograph ABP in London, the Maitland Institute, Cape Town and the Standard Bank Gallery during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
Her most recent group shows include The Face: A Search for Clues at Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden (2017); INTIMACY IS POLITICAL. Sex, gender, language, power at Centro Cultural Metropoliano, Quito (2017); Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2017); Kyotographie International Photography Festival, Kyoto (2017); Personae at the FotoFocus Biennial, held at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio (2016); Où poser la tête? at the Institute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean in Mauritius (2016); Supporting Alternative Visions at the Prince Claus Fund Gallery in Amsterdam (2016);the Berlin Biennale (2016); Mina/Meg at the Kulturhistorisk Museum in Oslo (2016); Systematically Open? New forms of production of the contemporary image at LUMA, Parc des Ateliers in Arles (2016); Reality of My Surroundings at the Nasher Museum of Art in North Carolina (2016); African Art Against the State at the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown (2016); After Eden/Après Eden - The Walther Collection at La Maison Rouge in Paris (2015); Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein and at the Guggenheim Bilbao (2015); The Order of Things: Photography from the Walther Collection at The Walther Collection in Ulm (2014) and After Our Bodies Meet: From Resistance to Potentiality at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York (2014).
Muholi was shortlisted for the 2015 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for her publication Faces and Phases 2006-14 (Steidl/The Walther Collection). Other publications include Zanele Muholi: African Women Photographers #1 (Casa Africa and La Fábrica, 2011); Faces and Phases (Prestel, 2010); and Only half the picture (Stevenson, 2006).