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Artist and Activist Zanele Muholi Grapples with Exposure in a New Monograph

May 8, 2024

Grace Ebert

“Buciko I” (2019). All images from ‘Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, Volume II'(Aperture, 2024), © 2024 Zanele Muholi

Following their lauded 2018 monograph, South African artist and activist Zanele Muholi has released a second book collecting the most recent additions to their series, Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness. Volume II features 80 self-portraits shot in Muholi’s signature saturated black and white along with writings by ten contributors and a long-form interview.

Often adorned in objects like cameras or aluminum can tops that are common to the locations they visit, the artist centers themself in each image and returns the gaze to the viewer, a radical act as a Black queer person. “My practice as a visual activist looks at Black resistance—existence as well as insistence,” they said about the series.

Edited by Renée Mussai and published by Aperture, Volume II reflects on how Muholi’s portraits subvert art historical traditions and respond to the current moment. The book largely contains works taken after the onset of COVID-19, and therefore, many portraits incorporate essential goods like masks and water jugs. Capturing a particularly traumatic time, the photos are a striking and poignant reminder that the human body is vulnerable and worth safeguarding.

Ideas about protection arise frequently, as in works like “Baveziwe I,” which means “exposed to” in Zulu and portrays them swathed in thick fabric, just their face visible. “Taking charge of my representation is one way of dealing with the inevitability of exposure. You think you are covered, but you are not. We are always exposed,” Muholi says in the book. The series “is my way of creating and activating a space of photographic shelter, a personal archive.”

Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness: Volume II is available on Bookshop.


“Baveziwe I” (2021)

“Thathu I” (2019)

“Mihla IV” (2020)

“Aphelile IV” (2020)

Cover image: “Qiniso” (2019)

#black and white
#Zanele Muholi


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