Artist Zanele Muholi Interrogates Race, Gender, and Politics Through Stylized Self-Portraits

Photo festivals are a great way to show work outside of where you live. Many of them, such as Arles or Photo 2022, have open calls to pitch work. Since these festivals often show early career artists with established names, they offer deeper insight into current ways within photography.

One such established artist is South African artist Zanele Muholi (they/them) who shifts the historical paradigm about the "other," specifically black and brown bodies at the intersection of gender and sexuality as seen through a colonial or hetero-normative gaze, by quite literally turning the camera on themself. In a series of self-portraits, Muholi is able to tell stories and histories of race and gender/sexuality from a perspective of the other. By experimenting with these different characters, Muholi re-imagines what self-expression and self-representation mean.

Part of this work was presented at Photo 2022. Photo 2022 is a festival based in Melbourne which includes both Australian and international artists and helps to promote current ideas in photo making and culture.

Historically speaking, photography as an extension of the gaze has cast a normative eye on the other, not so much as "normalizing" the other, but by "othering" the other and in doing so, maintaining a sort of prescribed status quo. By including the work of Muholi and other artists who occupy this space of the other, art institutions such as major galleries and festivals can offer a more contemporary and inclusive view of the world.

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5 Comments
Gary Heppell's picture

So tired of hearing about "race, gender and politics" in art.

James Dayvis's picture

Lol. I hope you're not a fan of Picasso, Gaugin, Dali, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Shostakovich, Mapplethorpe, Parks...

Ali Choudhry's picture

I'd wager to say most artwork is political than not.

Gary Heppell's picture

Ps. If an artist's work is great it will shine regardless of the artist's race or sex. See Basquiat, Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange, and Sally Mann. Parks and Lange made photographs that were political but they were also art, and we remember them as such. I don't think either Lange or Mann flogged the fact that they were/are women or troubled themselves about a "gaze."

Ali Choudhry's picture

What are you on about, mate?
Basquiat and Parks are most famously known for the African American experience. Mann and Lange about motherhood.