In this self-portrait, South African photographer Zanele Muholi uses light and contrast to exaggerate the darkness of black skin. Muholi’s bearing suggests an unapologetic pride in black identity. “Just like our ancestors,” the artist has said, “we live as black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear.” At the same time as it celebrates the beauty of blackness, this photograph also alludes to problematic representations of people of color by white artists throughout the history of art. Set in a former slave market than now sells souvenirs, the artist’s darkened, mask-like face appears against a wall of African masks for sale to tourists, recalling the expectations that white audiences have about depictions of black bodies.
Label from We the People: New Art from the Collection, October 23, 2018–July 21, 2019