Muholi is a visual activist and photographer born in Umlazi, Durban, and living in Johannesburg. 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’. Muholi co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002, and in 2009 founded Inkanyiso; a forum for queer and visual (activist) media. They continue to train and co-facilitate 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. In 2013, they became an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts/Hochschule für Künste Bremen.
Awards and accolades received include the Spectrum International Prize for Photography (2020); Lucie Award for Humanitarian Photography (2019); Rees Visionary Award by Amref Health Africa (2019); a fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society, UK (2018); France’s Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2017); the Mbokodo Award in the category of Visual Arts (2017); ICP Infinity Award for Documentary and Photojournalism (2016); Africa'Sout! Courage and Creativity Award (2016); Outstanding International Alumni Award from Ryerson University (2016); Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the 2013 Carnegie International; Prince Claus Award (2013); Index on Censorship - Freedom of Expression Art Award (2013); and Casa Africa Award for best female photographer, and Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako Biennial of African Photography (2009).
A mid-career retrospective by the artist currently takes place at Tate Modern, London. Previous solo exhibitions have taken place at institutions including the Cummer Museum, Florida (2021); Norval Foundation, Cape Town (2020); the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art, at Harvard University (2020); the Seattle Art Museum (2019); Colby Museum of Art, Maine (2019); the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta (2018); New Art Exchange, Nottingham (2018); Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (2018); Fototgrafiska, Stockholm (2018); LUMA Westbau, Zürich (2018); the Durban Art Gallery (a survey exhibition conceptualised as a homecoming, 2017); Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg (2017); Glasgow School of Art (2017); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2017); Autograph ABP, London (2017); Maitland Institute, Cape Town (2017); North Carolina Museum of Art (2016); Standard Bank Gallery, Grahamstown (2016); Gallatin Galleries, New York (2016); Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool (2015); Brooklyn Museum (2015); Akershus Kunstsenter, Norway (2015); Einsteinhaus, Ulm (2014); Schwules Museum, Berlin (2014); Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown (2014); and Casa Africa, Las Palmas (2011). The Faces and Phases series has been shown at the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013); dOCUMENTA 13 (2012), and the 29th São Paulo Biennial (2010).
Muholi exhibited in May You Live in Interesting Times, the 58th Venice Biennale (2019); they also produced a city-wide project titled Masihambisane - on Visual Activism for Performa 17, New York (2017) and featured in the inaugural exhibitions at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town. Other notable group shows include NIRIN, the 22nd Sydney Biennale (2020); African Cosmologies: Photography, Time, and the Other, 18th FotoFest Biennial, Houston, Texas (2020); The Way She Looks: A History of Female Gazes in African Portraiture at the Ryerson Image Center, Toronto (2019); Mirrors – The Reflected Self at Museum Rietberg Switzerland (2019); Yithi Laba at the Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg (2019); Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life, Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2018); Recent Histories, Huis Marseille and The Walther Collection, Amsterdam (2018); From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-face Picasso, Past and Present, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2018); Traversées Ren@rde, Transpalette Centre d'Art (2017); The Photographic I – Other Pictures, S.M.A.K Ghent (2017); Structures of Idenitity, Museo Amparo, Mexico (2017); The Face: A Search for Clues, Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden (2017); Intimacy is Political: Sex, gender, language, power, Centro Cultural Metropoliano, Quito (2017); Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2017); Kyotographie International Photography Festival, Kyoto (2017); Personae, FotoFocus Biennial, Cincinnati, Ohio (2016); Où poser la tête?, ICA Indian Ocean, Mauritius (2016); Second-Hand Reading: William Kentridge and Zanele Muholi, Mead Art Museum, Amherst (2016); Supporting Alternative Visions, Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam (2016); Berlin Biennale (2016); Mina/Meg, Kulturhistorisk Museum, Oslo (2016); Systematically Open? New forms of production of the contemporary image, LUMA, Arles (2016); Reality of My Surroundings, Nasher Museum of Art, North Carolina (2016); African Art Against the State, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown (2016); After Eden/Après Eden - The Walther Collection, La Maison Rouge, Paris (2015); Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, and Guggenheim Bilbao (2015); The Order of Things, The Walther Collection, Ulm (2014) and After Our Bodies Meet: From Resistance to Potentiality, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York (2014).
Muholi won the 2019 'Best Photography Book Award' by the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation for Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail, The Dark Lioness (Aperture), and was shortlisted for the 2015 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for the 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).