Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance Gallery Guide

On View on the Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade

On View February 1, 2022 - June 1, 2022

Sir Zanele Muholi, who uses they/them/their pronouns, is a Durban, South African-born photographer and visual activist. For over a decade they have used photography to convey messages about social empowerment and representation for the Black LGBTQIA+ community. In their self-portraiture, they adopt different poses, engage various locations, and utilize found objects that characterize archetypes and stereotypes to address issues of racism and anti-Blackness. In Qhamukile, Mauritius, Muholi reveals, conceals, disrupts and deconstructs Eurocentric beauty standards to examine the politics of the Black body; how it’s been both exoticized and erased. Qhamukile is isiZulu for “it has appeared” and alludes to Muholi’s intention and desire for queer visibility.


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.

The Facade.

Qhamukile, Mauritius, 2019

Photo: Julia Featheringill


This is a large-scale, 36 foot by 16 foot, site-specific artwork installed on a structure on the outside of the Gardner Museum’s New Wing.  It is a vertical black-and-white photograph printed on vinyl. Most of the composition is filled with lush foliage and white flowers on tree branches. The tree leaves are clustered together in bunches and the individual leaves curve inwards and down in a crescent shape. The flowers extend from a central stem with smaller stems that branch out into clusters of small fuzzy white flowers. They have a coral-like appearance. The artist’s face appears about two-thirds of the way down the composition, partially covered and framed by the leaves and flowers. They are positioned behind the branches and flowers in the foreground with an out-of-focus forest landscape behind them. They have dark skin and dark locs gathered up on the top of their head which contrast against white flowers to the left and bottom of their face. Their head is tilted slightly upwards and to our right. They gaze up and away from us out of the frame. Light appears to be coming in from the right of the scene, which reflects off the artist’s forehead, cheekbones, the tip of their nose, and their lips. 

Porsha Olayiwola.

Porsha Olayiwola

Excerpt from Black and Ugly as Ever, 2021

Existing poem shared in response to Qhamukile, Mauritius, 2016


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About the Poet

Porsha Olayiwola is a writer, performer, educator, and curator who uses afro-futurism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in the Black, woman, and queer diasporas. She is an Individual World Poetry Slam Champion, the artistic director at MassLEAP, and current poet laureate for the city of Boston. Learn More

The Anne H. Fitzpatrick Facade on Evans Way has been dedicated to rotating commissioned site-specific works by Artists-in-Residence since 2012. The fabric scrim serves as an outdoor canvas that extends the gallery space beyond the Museum’s interior walls and serves as public art in the city of Boston. 

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.