‘I Want to Be Counted in History’: Watch How Photographer Zanele Muholi Uses Her Camera to Tell the Stories of Trans Women

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the "Johannesburg" episode of "Art in the Twenty-First Century," Season 9. © Art21, Inc. 2018.

South African photographer Zanele Muholi doesn’t mince words when it comes to what she wants to accomplish. “Like any other great men, I want to be counted in history,” she says. “I want to produce that history.” In an exclusive interview for Art21’s feature “Johannesburg,” the artist describes how her photography functions as more than just image-based communication; it is giving a voice to those who are missing from mass media, whose stories are only told when tragedy strikes.

In a very personal sense, Muholi speaks from experience. She describes her family life, growing up in a family with eight children, only four of whom have survived to adulthood. “My mother never had an opportunity to own her own voice until she died,” she says. “Why are ordinary people only featured in magazines when there’s tragedy?”

Production still from the “Johannesburg” episode of “Art in the Twenty-First Century,” Season 9. © Art21, Inc. 2018.

Since winning a photography competition two decades ago, Muholi has been documenting the lives of the LGBTQI community, turning her lens on trans women who are also beauty queens. The poignant work underscores the artist’s point, showing why her “ordinary” subjects deserve to be featured on the covers of magazines or in art museums around the world.

Production still from the “Johannesburg” episode of “Art in the Twenty-First Century,” Season 9. © Art21, Inc. 2018.

Right now, the artist’s show “Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness” is making its US debut at the Spelman Art Museum. The exhibition showcases the artist’s technical facility while making a compelling commentary on race and gender identity in the historically black university setting.

Watch the segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness” is on view at Spelman Art Museum in Georgia, through December 8.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series premieres this Friday, September 28 on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs atArt21.org.


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