Zanele Muholi makes a splash at Paris Art Fair


Photos, paintings and sculptures by artist Zanele Muholi have been a hit in Paris

Internationally acclaimed South African queer visual activist and photographer Sir Zanele Muholi is wowing visitors at the prestigious Art Paris Fair 2022 with a solo exhibition.

Muholi – known for their long-running Faces and Phases series of black and white portraits commemorating black lesbians, and Somnyama Ngonyama, a self-portraiture series – is being praised both by collectors and the director of the fair.

Selected artworks in the form of paintings, photographs and sculptures were a hit and even sold out pre-show. This is Muholi’s first solo show at Art Paris Fair. 

The Director of Art Paris, Guilaume Piens has high praise for both Muholi and their Paris gallerist Caraloe Kvasnevski, describing their booth as “definitely the most striking” one at the fair.  

He also commended Kvasnevski for showcasing Muholi’s diverse works and extending his gratitude to the visual activist whom he has watched over the years.

“I’ve witnessed Zanele Muholi since Paris Photo and seeing how incredible they keep growing is amazing, they have become the ultimate focus and favourite at this year’s Paris Art Fair, especially with the sculpture and paintings,” he stated  

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Muholi settled in the peaceful rural setting of Umbumbulu in KwaZulu-Natal and gave their usual medium, the camera, a break. They instead started telling stories through paintings as a medium to process their own pain. 

While Muholi is known for documenting the lives and struggles of LGBTIQ+ communities, they felt it was important for them to also focus on themselves. “Having documented painful experiences of other people, without dealing with my own pain, I needed to remember me,” they said.

During this period they continued showing Somnyama Ngonyama around the world, with an exhibition at the 58th Venice Biennial, entitled May You Live in Interesting Times. A retrospective was also held at the Tate Modern (2020-2021) in London. 

In 2017, Muholi was knighted by France for their ground-breaking art, especially for documenting black African queer identities. They have been named one of the world’s most powerful African artists in the contemporary art world. Muholi also co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002 and in 2009 founded Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media. 

Art Paris Fair 2022 is taking place at the Grand Palais Ephémère, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, from the 7th to the 10th of April 2022. It features work from 130 modern and contemporary galleries from around twenty countries.

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