Evening Sale

Live Virtual Auction, 19 March 2024

Evening Sale

Sold for

ZAR 462 100
Lot 4
  • Zanele Muholi; Mumu x London, Somnyama Ngonyama series
  • Zanele Muholi; Mumu x London, Somnyama Ngonyama series
  • Zanele Muholi; Mumu x London, Somnyama Ngonyama series

Lot Estimate
ZAR 400 000 - 600 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 462 100

About this Item

South African 1972-
Mumu x London, Somnyama Ngonyama series

signed, dated 2019, numbered 1/8; accompanied by a certificate of authenticity inscribed with the title and medium

giclée print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta paper
100 by 100cm excluding frame; 109 by 109 by 4cm including frame


Zanele Muholi is one of South Africa’s most recognisable and celebrated artists. Emerging onto the South African art scene in the early 2000s with work that offered stark documentary witness to the life experiences of black LGBTQIA+ peoples, Muholi soon diversified their photographic output to include various forms of portraiture. In 2012, Muholi initiated the self-portrait series Somnyama Ngonyama (‘Hail the Dark Lioness’ in isiZulu). Now widely acclaimed, the series is characterised by the artist’s generous streak of improvisation and play.

Muholi typically uses whatever garments, fabrics and adornments are at hand to produce each portrait. Muholi’s playfulness is counterbalanced by the weight of associations: a helmet recalls the Marikana massacre of 2012, and a head crowned with pencils an apartheid-era test used to determine racial classification. The portraits are adjusted in post-production to amplify the tonalities. Although devoid of locality and context, the makeshift studios for these portraits are irreducibly linked to the many international cities Muholi has travelled to. The present lot was produced in London during the build up to Muholi’s Covid delayed solo exhibition at Tate Modern in 2020. The Guardian described the exhibition as ‘epochal’ and praised Muholi’s self-portraits for their ‘extraordinary graphic force’.1

The Somnyama Ngonyama series traces its origins to 2012 artist’s residency in Italy. The bucolic calm of the residency was disturbed by nearby hunters shooting wild boar, or ‘wild, black pig’ as it was described to Muholi. At the same time, black Italian footballers participating in a European competition were subjected to racist taunts from the terraces when bananas were thrown onto the pitch, accompanied by monkey chants. ‘It made me think of how we are perceived as black people,’ Muholi said in an interview, ‘and how black bodies are routinely exposed to danger. Anything black is always positioned as wild, animalistic, uncontrollable.’2

This series was conceived ‘to encourage individuals in my community to be brave enough to occupy spaces – brave enough to create without fear of being vilified,’ and ‘[t]o teach people about our history, to rethink what history is all about, to reclaim it for ourselves – to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back’. Key to the project is the artist’s own self-image. ‘I wanted to use my own face so that people will always remember just how important our black faces are when confronted by them.’3

1. Laura Cummings (2020) ‘Zanele Muholi review – portraiture as activism’, The Guardian, 8 November: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/ nov/08/zanele-muholi-tate-modern-review-southafrica
2. Renée Mussai (2018) ‘Zanele Muholi On Resistance’, Aperture, online, https://aperture.org/editorial/ muholi-interview/, accessed 26 February 2024.
3. I bid.


Acquired from the artist by the current owner.

View all Zanele Muholi lots for sale in this auction

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