France knights SA's acclaimed visual activist Zanele Muholi

28 November 2017 - 13:35 By Shelley Seid
One of Zanele Muholi's striking self-portraits.
One of Zanele Muholi's striking self-portraits.
Image: Supplied

Last week, photographic artist Zanele Muholi received a French knighthood, Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, a cultural recognition of those who have contributed significantly to the arts in France and abroad.

The internationally acclaimed gender activist joins a select group of South Africans that includes Johnny Clegg, William Kentridge and architect Carin Smuts.

Muholi is driven by a determination to document the experiences of black LGBT South Africans and the oppression faced by black people.

"My work speaks to all those inequalities that need to be made visual," she says. "I'm working hard to ensure we leave a history for those who come after us. I am sharing and archiving a history that no one has captured before me."

Her work has been shown at the 55th Venice Biennale and Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany.

She has also exhibited at the V&A Museum in London, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Leslie/Lohman Gallery in New York. But, oddly enough, never in her home town. Born in Umlazi, Muholi has never had a solo showing here. "I have never been invited," she says.

However, the scale of the exhibition that opens at the Durban Art Gallery at the City Hall on December 1 should make up for it.

Marketed as a "groundbreaking", homecoming exhibition, Muholi will show five bodies of work.

She says she is looking forward to the show.

"There are people in Durban who I have been documenting for 10 years and their families have not yet had the opportunity to see their people in a public space."

• The exhibition runs from December 1 to 18 at the Durban Art Gallery and includes various educational programmes.

• This article was originally published in The Times.