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PHI Artist Collectionpermanente Zanele Muholi Vivien Gaumand

Zanele Muholi

Sine II, Sheraton Hotel, Brooklyn - 2019

Gelatine silver print
64.5 x 48.6 cm
Collection of Phoebe Greenberg

Photo: Vivien Gaumand

Raven Spiratos on Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi's Sine II is a captivating large-sized black and white photograph of a single figure: A person emerges from the inky depths of the background holding a pillow in one hand, their eyes staring firmly into ours. Their locks are adorned with three combs, one on either side, while the last is arranged horizontally at the edge of their hairline, forming a headdress of combs. It is the artist themself. This remarkable work of art invokes the power of self-documentation by reclaiming both the lens and the gaze.

Muholi began their practice with photographing their fellow Black Queer community members in South Africa as a way to assert their existence. Series like Faces and Phases, became a statement of defiance; ways to see, recognize, and remember. Sine II, and other self-portraits, represent the artist’s intention to give space to their own lived experiences. It is as much a document of legacy as it is a meditation of self: “I’ve listened to so many people’s pain, and it meant I had to sleep with that pain when people moved on with their lives. When do photographers get time to deal with their own pain and be given their space to do it?” [1] Sine II is a reminder of the importance of self-inquiry.

Muholi’s response to the abuse and discrimination faced by their community is to contribute and invest in the Black, Queer, and Trans visual history of South Africa, and even the Diaspora at large. Muholi confronts those realities and envisions the possibilities of transformation, freedom, and futurity.

“I am one of us, I’m not observing from a distance.” [2]

—Zanele Muholi

About the artist

Zanele Muholi, born in Umlazi, Durban and lives in Johannesburg is a visual activist and photographer. For over a decade they have documented black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’s lives in various townships in South Africa. Responding to the continuing discrimination and violence faced by the LGBTI community, in 2006 Muholi embarked on an ongoing project, Faces and Phases, in which they depict black lesbian and transgender individuals. Muholi’s self-proclaimed mission is "to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond." These arresting portraits are part of Muholi’s contribution towards a more democratic and representative South African homosexual history. Through this positive imagery, Muholi hopes to offset the stigma and negativity attached to queer identity in African society.


Zanele Muholi's Sine II is currently on view in Figure–Ground, a series bringing together several works from PHI's art collection that explore the figure and the complex and intimate correlation it establishes with its background.

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PHI's art collection

December 15 June 11, 2023

An ongoing collection of contemporary artworks, accessible and free at the PHI Centre

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[1] Andrea K. Scott. "The Fever-Dream Urgency of Zanele Muholi’s Self-Portraits in 'Somnyama Ngonyama,'” The New Yorker (2017),

[2] Jenna Wortham. "Zanele Muholi's Transformations," The New Yorker (2015),