General admission for children 17 years and under is always free

Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance

February 10 - May 8, 2022
Hostetter Gallery, Fenway Gallery, and Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade

Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance explores the life and work of internationally renowned photographer and visual activist Sir Zanele Muholi (b. South Africa). For a decade, Muholi, who uses they/them/their pronouns, has documented South Africa’s Black LGBTQIA+ community. Through their visual archive of representation, the artist captures intimate expressions of beauty, vulnerability, love, loss, and belonging, while simultaneously confronting issues of identity politics, selfhood, and Black queer visibility.

Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance spans galleries in both the historic and new building. The exhibition features self-portraits in black-and-white and the U.S. debut of their colorful and expressive new paintings and a new bronze sculptural work. On view are rarely seen images from the artist’s ongoing, critically-acclaimed series, Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, several of which were made during Muholi’s 2019 residency at the Gardner, and selections from Brave Beauties portraying Muholi’s chosen family in South Africa. Self-portraits made before and after the COVID-19 quarantine use found objects to address economic and environmental inequities. The exhibition also features poetic responses inspired by Muholi’s artistry penned by Boston Poet Laureate and 2021 artist-in-residence Porsha Olayiwola.

Muholi embodies the spirit of ubuntu, a Nguni Bantu term meaning “our shared humanity” and expressed in Zulu as “I am because we are.” They bring with them those who are often unseen, vilified, marginalized and misrepresented,  helping us see our shared humanity,  by making space for Black and LGBTQIA+ people to simply BE. 


*Muholi uses they/them/their pronouns both to challenge the oppositional gender pronouns of “he” and “she,” and to acknowledge oneness with their ancestral and living communities. 


Learn about the terms used in the exhibition in our online glossary. Resources for the LGBTQIA+ community, their allies, and all those who wish to learn more are available.


View Gallery Guide



We invite you to enjoy a suite of programs exploring themes related to Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance including gender and sexuality, photography and the visual archive, poetry and more. Thank you to Event Media Partner Uncommon Radio: WERS and WERS+.



Sir Zanele Muholi, who uses they/them/their pronouns, is a visual activist and photographer whose creative outputs are in service to Black women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Muholi’s mission is “to rewrite a Black queer and trans visual history for the world to know of our resistance and existance at the height of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond.” 

Deeply committed to education, the arts, and activism, Muholi co-founded the Forum for Empowerment for Women, the first Black lesbian organization in Johannesburg, in 2002 and operated Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media, from 2006-2020. 

Muholi studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, and in 2009 completed an MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University, Toronto. In 2013 they became an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts/Hochschule für Künste Bremen. In 2017, Muholi was bestowed France’s highest cultural honor, the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts des Lettres, for their significant contributions to French culture; it is in recognition of this prestigious award that the artist uses the title “Sir.” 

They were included in the South African pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013) and took part in the São Paolo Biennial (2010) and  documenta 13, Kassel (2013). Recent solo exhibitions include the Brooklyn Museum, New York (2015); Rencontres D’Arles (2016); and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2017), Tate Modern (2020), Gropius Bau (2021). Their photographs are represented in the collections of Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), the Guggenheim (New York), Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago), Tate Modern (London), South African National Gallery (Cape Town), and others. They are represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York and Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg.

Featured image: Zanele Muholi, Bona III, ISGM, Boston, 2019. (detail) Photograph, archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York and Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg

Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance is supported by the Abrams Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Wagner Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation. The Media Partner is WBUR.

The Artist-in-Residence program is directed by Pieranna Cavalchini, Tom and Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art, and is supported in part by the Barbara Lee Program Fund. 

The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which is supported by the state of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts.