Self-Identity: Zanele Muholi's Self Portraits as Personal and Community Activism




Deck-Portillo, Katherine

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Zanele Muholi’s (they/their) self-portrait series Somnyama Ngonyama (2014 – 2017) constructs identity through feminist practices of the gaze as seen in the 204 images. Muholi photographed themself in black and white at different locations across the globe. The self-portraits address various political issues (gender, sexuality, race, colonialism, and globalism) while consistently reaffirming their core identity as a visual activist. The thesis will contextualize Muholi’s work through the history of photography and queerness in South Africa. By utilizing theories of the gaze and identity developed by bell hooks and Amelia Jones, I will argue how Muholi’s work functions as activism as it disrupts traditionally exclusionary art spaces and begins a healing process towards inclusionary practices.


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Muholi, Zanele, Somnyama Ngonyama, Visual activist



Art and Art History