Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance

Glossary of Terms

This glossary is designed to help audiences understand the terms used in the exhibition Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance. Definitions marked with an asterisk (*) were prepared for the exhibition Zanele Muholi, on view at Tate Modern, London, England, from November 2020 to May 2021, and are reprinted with permission of the authors. 

When first published online, the glossary included the following statement, which applies today:

"The terms included in this glossary are culturally complex and nuanced. Whilst the co-authors and editors of this text have attempted to reflect this, it is worth noting that the interpretations offered here are not definitive, as the meanings of many of the terms herein are deeply subjective and are consistently contested, debated and re-evaluated."

Apartheid: An oppressive system of policies that was officially implemented in South Africa from 1948 until 1994, to enforce racial segregation and political, economic, and social discrimination against people of color or anyone who was not classified as white. The word “apartheid” is an Afrikaans word meaning “apartness.” The term has also been used to refer to global forms of institutionalized/systemic racial and socio-economic oppression that is still prevalent in many societies across the world.*

Asexual: An umbrella term used to describe those with a variation of romantic and/or sexual attraction, including a lack of attraction. The term can also describe people who are emotionally, psychologically and intellectually attracted to people, or where their attraction is not limited to physical sexual expression.*

Colonialism: The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa: The supreme law of the Republic of South Africa, drawn up by the Parliament elected in 1994 and announced by President Nelson Mandela in 1996. Chapter 2, section 9 of the Bill of Rights prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but LGBTQIA+ people continue to be policed, violated, and dehumanized in South Africa today.

Gender: Often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity, gender is culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth. One’s gender is made up of one’s gender identity (a person’s innate sense of their own gender) and gender expression (how a person outwardly expresses their gender).*

Heteronormativity: A socio-political system that, predicated on the gender binary, upholds heterosexuality as the norm or default sexual orientation. Heteronormativity encompasses a belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (men and women) with natural roles in life. It assumes that sexual, romantic, and marital relations are most fitting between a cisgender man and a cisgender woman, positioning all other sexual orientations as ‘deviations’.*

Homophobia: Prejudice against, disdain, and/or fear of LGBTQIA+ people. 

Intersex: A term used to describe a person who may have biological attributes that do not fit with societal assumptions about what constitutes ‘male’ or ‘female’. These biological variations may manifest in different ways and at different stages throughout an individual’s life. Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.*

LGBTQIA+ : An acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual. The plus sign acknowledges and includes an even wider diversity of gender and sexual identities.

Misogyny: Prejudice against, dislike of, or contempt for women.

Misogynoir: A term coined by queer Black feminist Moya Bailey to describe the specific prejudice against Black women based on intersecting race and gender identities. 

Non-binary: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity does not sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman’ (also often referred to as genderqueer). Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely.*

Queer: An umbrella term used by those who reject heteronormativity. Although some people view this word as a slur, it was reclaimed by the queer community, who have embraced it as an empowering and subversive identity.*

Pronouns: Words we use to refer to people’s gender in conversation – for example, ‘he’ or ‘she’, or gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they.’*

Racism: Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized. 

Sex: Sex is distinct from gender. Sex is assigned to a person at birth on the basis of biological sex characteristics (genitalia) and reproductive functions.*

Sexism: Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

Transgender: A person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond to that person's sex assigned at birth, or which does not otherwise conform to conventional notions of sex and gender. Many transgender people identify as women or men, while others identify as a diversity of non-binary identities.

Transphobia: Prejudice against, disdain, and/or fear of transgender people. 

White Supremacy: A racist ideology in which people defined and perceived as white are central to, superior to and should dominate people of other races, and the systems created and practices based on this ideology that are to the detriment of non-white racial and ethnic groups.*

Xenophobia: Prejudice against, disdain, and/or fear of people from other countries. 

Zulu: A Bantu ethnic group and language of Southern Africa situated within the Nguni people. They are a branch of the southern Bantu and have close ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties with the Swazi and Xhosa. The Zulu are South Africa’s largest ethnic group, with an estimated population of 10 million, residing mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.*


The Gardner is an inclusive museum that welcomes everyone and values diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI). Through our exhibitions, programs, and collaborations, we support efforts to educate ourselves and our audiences about differing views and lived experiences. Learn more about our DEAI and community commitments and progress.

*Entries with asterisks were written by Sinazo Chiya of the Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg, Genevieve Louw of GALA Queer Archive, Braamfontein, Bongani Matabane of the University of Cape Town, and Maggie Matić, Curator at Studio Voltaire, London