Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance Gallery Guide

On View in the Fenway Gallery

My practice as a visual activist looks at Black resistance—existence as well as insistence.

— Sir Zanele Muholi

Having traveled the world, visual activist Sir Zanele Muholi, who uses them/they/their pronouns, has seen how systemic biases create spaces where one cannot safely declare one’s entire being. They take tremendous pride in celebrating and representing their sexual and cultural identities. When Muholi was born in Durban, South Africa, at the height of apartheid, their visual activism may not have been possible. Though a new era of democracy was introduced in 1994 and the new Constitution of South Africa in 1996 guaranteed not only racial equality but protection on the basis of sexual orientation, LGBTQIA+ people continue to be policed, violated, and dehumanized. The juxtaposition of joy and pain in Muholi’s portraiture of queer citizens and disparate landscapes speaks to broader sociopolitical disparities in housing and the sense of displacement one can feel in one’s own land. We see an enthusiasm and zeal for life in the portraits of a lesbian couple and other LGBTQIA+ South Africans that contradicts the images of poverty and gentrification. Though considered by many a global citizen, Muholi stays deeply rooted in and connected to their homeland’s heritage and histories—past, present, and future. 


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.

Porsha Olayiwola.

Porsha Olayiwola

In Lieu of Writing about the Mother Recaptured into Chattel Slavery, 2021

Newly-commissioned poem in response to works in this Gallery


00:00 / 02:21


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




Hostetter Gallery | February 10, 2022 - May 8, 2022


Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade | February 10, 2022 - May 8, 2022


Porsha Olayiwola

Future Archive

February 10, 2022 - May 8, 2022

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.