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The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum raises awareness of social injustice through art

Photographer and visual activist Sir Zanele Muholi exhibits their powerful work through May.

"Miss V" by Sir Zanele Muholi is one of the photographs on display.

Having traveled the world, photographer and visual activist Sir Zanele Muholi (them/they/their) has seen how systemic biases create spaces where one cannot safely declare one’s entire being. For nearly two decades, they have documented the lives of Black LGBTQIA+ individuals in their home country of South Africa and beyond, using imagery to create a visual archive of representation and raise awareness of social injustice.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (ISGM) opens a new exhibition, “Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance.” It is the first to display a series of recent vibrant paintings and a large bronze bust (created over the pandemic) alongside their well-known photographs, including the artist’s iconic black and white self-portrait series, “Somnyama Ngonyama” (“Hail the Dark Lioness” in Zulu) which includes five photos made at the Gardner in 2019 during Muholi’s artist-in-residency.

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Muholi has received international recognition for their activism and art, including a retrospective at Tate Modern in London last year. The ISGM’s exhibition of more than 50 works is co-curated by Pieranna Cavalchini, the Gardner’s Tom and Lisa Blumenthal curator of contemporary art, and Theo Tyson, the Penny Vinik curator of fashion arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

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