South African photographer honoured at Index on Censorship awards

26 March 2013

South African photographer Zanele Muholi was honoured at Index on Censorship awards for ‘courage and the powerful statements made by her work’.

Zanele Muholi

In the last year, four women in South Africa have been murdered because of their sexuality, including Phumeza Nkolonzi, 22, who was shot dead in front of her grandmother and niece, and Sihle Sikoji, aged 19 when she was stabbed to death.

This is the context of Zanele Muholi’s photography.

Zanele Muholi participated in the conference ‘All that is banned is desired’ — the first world conference about artistic freedom of expression — in Oslo in October 2012, where she gave her testimonial. She described herself as a ‘visual activist’, presenting positive imagery of black lesbians and transgendered persons through her work.

Her series of black and white portraits, ‘Faces and Phases’, was exhibited at Documenta 13 in Berlin in 2012, as was her documentary ‘Difficult Love’ which has been shown to acclaim at festivals around the world.

The Index of Censorship Awards, which are part of the Freedom of Expression Awards, are, according to the organisers, “an extraordinary celebration of the courageous and determined individuals around the world who have stood up for free expression, often at great personal risk.”

The prizes were handed out on 21 March 2013 by the Index on Censorship Institute, which also compiles the Media Freedom Index.

Muholi received her award from Index’s chair, writer and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby. Dedicating the award to two friends who were victims of hate crimes and later succumbed to HIV complications, Muholi said: “To all the activists, gender activists, visual activists, queer artists, writers, poets, performers, art activists, organic intellectuals who use all art forms of expressions in South Africa. The war is not over till we reach an end to ‘curative rapes’ and brutal killing of black lesbians, gays and transpersons in South Africa.”

Getting the award comes at a particularly poignant time for Muholi, she said, because it is six years after the death of Busi Sigasa and seven after the death of Buhle Msibi — both black lesbian activists who were survivors of rape but who ended up HIV-positive. Both were activist colleagues and featured in her photography.

Quoted by the British newspaper The Guardian, the institute’s chief executive Kirsty Hughes said: “Zanele has shown tremendous bravery in the face of criticism and harassment for ground-breaking images which include intimate portraits of gay women in South Africa, where homosexuality is still taboo and lesbians are the target of horrific hate crimes. She has won the award both for her courage and the powerful statements made by her work.”

Works from Muholi’s ‘Faces and Phases’ series are currently on exhibition at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York.

The Guardian – 21 March 2013:
South African photographer wins award for portraits of black lesbians
Zanele Muholi honoured at Index on Censorship awards for ‘courage and the powerful statements made by her work’. Mark Brown, arts correspondent

Mail & Guardian – 25 March 2013:
SA activist wins international Freedom of Expression award
Zanele Muholi has won the Freedom of Expression Index award over punk group Pussy Riot, filmmaker Haifaa al Mansour and cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.



Zanele Muholi is a visual activist born in Umlazi, Durban and currently lives in Cape Town. Prior to her photographic journeys into black female sexualities and genders in Africa, she worked as a human/lesbian rights activist with members in her community, raising the many issues facing black lesbian women living in South Africa today. She worked as a reporter and photographer for Behind the Mask as well as researched and documented cases of hate crimes over a three year period, in order to to bring the realities of ‘curative rape’, assault, HIV and brutal murders of black lesbians to public attention. In 2002, she co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organization based in Gauteng, dedicated to providing a safe space for women loving women to meet and organize.

Muholi completed an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown in 2003, and held her first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004. Since then, she has completed a MFA in Documentary Media, exhibited at numerous galleries and museums such as São Paulo Biennial, Brazil and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

She has gained several awards for her documentary Difficult Love (2010) which was screened at festivals in Canada, Sweden, France, Russia, Italy and more. Furthermore, three books have been published on her work and Muholi won several awards for her photography such as the Casa Africa award for best female photographer living in Africa.


• Home page:


• Exhibition: Mo(u)rning

• Article: Black Looks – ‘Campaign to replace Zanele Muholi’s stolen photography equipment’

• Article: Los Angeles Times – ‘South African photographer believes theft was hate crime’

• Article: Black Looks – ‘A Dangerous Visibility – In memory of Thapelo Makhutle’

Home / News / South African photographer honoured at Index on Censorship awards

Check Also

Sploshing on the Spree, Forever Animal exhibition, Rebecca Goyette, 2019

South Korea: Harmful for children? ‘Forever Animal’ gallery exhibition censored in Seoul

On August 1 2019, an exhibition of drawings and art films was cancelled at the Huam-Garok gallery in Seoul, South Korea due to alleged reasons of indecency.