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Zanele Muholi

Dalisu, New York
From the series "Somnyama Ngonyama" [Hail the Dark Lioness]

Artist

Zanele Muholi
Born in Umlazi, South Africa, in 1972

Title

Dalisu, New York
From the series "Somnyama Ngonyama" [Hail the Dark Lioness]

Date

2016

Materials

Gelatin silver print, 3/8

Dimensions

60.3 x 56.3 cm

Credits

Purchase, the Appel family fund in memory of Bram and Bluma Appel, inv. 2018.21

Collection

Graphic Arts

In Dalisu, New York, Muholi’s face emerges from a mass of black yarn draped over her head and shoulders to lock the viewer into silent conversation. By increasing contrast in post-production, Muholi’s dark complexion becomes the focal point of a multi-layered interrogation into complex notions of beauty and desire, as well as the dangerous terrains, racisms, and interlinked “phobias” navigated daily. It was inspired by a negative experience in a New York hotel, where staff treated Muholi as though she were looking for directions, rather than a hotel guest. Muholi explains that “Dalisu means ‘make a plan.’ . . . All those minor questions, they add up to something. And they are so irritating; it feels as if you’re inside a web—a web in your face that you have to constantly peel back in order to breathe . . . Dalisu talks about the feeling of being strangled alive.”


Muholi is one of the most important and influential African photographers working today. A self-proclaimed “visual activist,” she is committed to increasing the visibility of Black, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people in South Africa and their struggles for equality. Dalisu is a key work in Muholi’s most recent series of self-portraits, Somnyama Ngonyama (“Hail the Dark Lioness” in isiZulu). The series employs the conventions of classical portraiture, fashion photography and the familiar tropes of ethnographic imagery to rearticulate contemporary identity politics.

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