Featured in
Issue 219

Zanele Muholi’s Family Portrait

The artist and activist answers the frieze questionnaire

BY Zanele Muholi in Questionnaires | 26 MAY 21

What was the first work of art you loved?

I’m from Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal. When I was growing up, in our school books and even on television, Shaka Zulu was our hero. As a result, drawings and sketches of him – which I now know were artistic interpretations – were the first images I found inspiring. He was the Zulu king from 1816 to 1828 and a source of pride.

What is underrated?

People are familiar with my monograph, Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, which was published by Aperture in 2018. In 2020, I self-published a colouring book of that series: it’s something I consider to be of value, too. 

What is the most important work you’ve seen lately?

A locally produced Netflix mini-series called ‘How to Ruin Christmas: The Wedding’ (2020), starring mainly South African actors. The show is not about crime or violence; it’s about connection and family.

What surprises people about you?

Because I have had dreadlocks for the last several years, people assume I smoke weed. I don’t smoke and never have.

What do you like to do when you’re alone?

I paint (a lot) with acrylics.

Who do you miss?

I miss my late mother a lot. It’s been ten years now, but it still feels like yesterday.


This article first appeared in frieze issue 219 with the headline ‘Questionnaire: Zanele Muholi'.

Main image: Photograph from Zanele Muholi’s family album, c.1965. Courtesy: the artist

Zanele Muholi is a visual activist and photographer. They are the recipient of the 2021 Spectrum International Prize for Photography. Their survey exhibition is on view at Tate Modern, London, UK, until 31 May. They live in Durban, South Africa.