Zanele Muholi was born in 1972 in Umlazi, Durban, and is currently based in Johannesburg. A photographer and self-described visual activist, Muholi sees her work as a lifetime endeavor aimed at redefining the face of Africa both within and outside the continent, and fighting violence against LGBTI people. Her photographs frequently show the black female body, revealing a closeness and familiarity that is often overlooked in conventional documentary photography. Her sensual portrayals of physicality explore gay sexuality and intimacy as well as the emotional displacement and marginalization this population experiences in South Africa. Muholi was a cofounder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, a nonprofit organization based in Johannesburg that provides social and political support to black lesbians and transsexuals, and she has worked as a photographer and reporter for Behind the Mask, an online magazine covering lesbian and gay issues in Africa. She has produced three documentaries addressing these issues: Zanele Muholi, Visual Activist (2013), Difficult Love (2010), and Enraged by a Picture (2005).

Muholi has exhibited her work internationally, including solo exhibitions at Singapore International Festival of Arts (2014), Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto (2014), Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts (2014), Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (2013), and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York (2013). She has been in group exhibitions at Standard Bank Art Gallery, Johannesburg (2014), Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut (2014), Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg (2014), the 55th Venice Biennale (2013), the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2013), Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany (2012), the Menil Collection, Houston (2012), Center for Contemporary Art, Lagos (2012), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2011), and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2011). She was the recipient of the 2005 Tollman Award for the Visual Arts and the first BHP Billiton / Wits University Visual Arts Fellowship in 2006. In 2009, she was the Ida Ely Rubin Artist in Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; that same year she received a Fanny Ann Eddy accolade from IRN-Africa for her outstanding contributions to the study of sexuality in Africa, and also won the Casa Africa award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography. In 2010, her Faces and Phases series was included in the 29th São Paulo Biennial, and the series was published by Prestel and nominated as best photobook of 2010 at the International Photobook Festival in Kassel. Muholi exhibited at the Rencontres d’Arles festival in France in 2012 as a nominee for the Discovery Award, and was granted a fellowship at Civitella Ranieri in Italy. She was the winner of the Fine Art Prize at the 2013 Carnegie International.