The self-portrait is an age-old art form that contemporary photographer Zanele Muholi composes as a form of visual activism. While traveling around the world from 2014–17, the artist staged portraits that are loaded with symbols and moods derived from new surroundings. Muholi appears in over 80 portraits, but each is uniquely challenging, framing their face with materials chosen to challenge perceptions of who and where they are. Scouring pads, cowrie shells, and washing machine tubes signal associations with domestic service, fashion choices, and plastics in the environment. A meaningful name for each portrait is given in isiZulu, the first language of the artist who now lives in Johannesburg. For this series, the artist’s direct and uncompromising gaze follows you wherever you go.
Image: Somnyama Ngonyama II, Oslo, 2015, Zanele Muholi, South African, b. 1972, © Zanele Muholi, Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town / Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York.