7th Jun, 2023 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 21
Lot 21 - Zanele Muholi (South Africa 1972-)


Zanele Muholi (South Africa 1972-)
Sine II, Melbourne, Australia

Giclée print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta paper

Artwork date: 2020
Edition: number 4 from an edition of 8
Exhibited: Pearl Lam galleries, Hong Kong, 'Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness', 18 May to 15 August 2021, an example from the edition exhibited.

Estimated at R500,000 - R700,000


Giclée print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta paper

Artwork date: 2020
Edition: number 4 from an edition of 8
Exhibited: Pearl Lam galleries, Hong Kong, 'Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness', 18 May to 15 August 2021, an example from the edition exhibited.


80 x 63 cm


Private collection, Cape Town.


This grippingly extravagant image is a recent addition to Zanele Muholi’s ongoing Somnyama Ngonyama series. For over a decade, this project has seen Muholi stepping in front of the camera to create striking portraits in which the artist is both the participant and image-maker. Somnyama Ngonyama means ‘Hail, the Dark Lioness’ in isiZulu, and is Muholi’s personal approach as a visual activist to confront the politics of race and gender identity in the photographic archive. For Muholi, it is a statement of self-presentation and protest through portraiture. “In each photograph that I take, there is longing and looking for ‘me’”, Muholi said in a lecture at the International Center of Photography, New York, in 2016.

As evidenced in this photograph, this series sees Muholi experimenting with various archetypes and performing different characters, highly stylised and expressively portrayed in high-contrast black and white tonal values. These self-portraits were captured in different cities in America, Africa, Europe and also Australia – part of the artist’s own journey to imprint the memories and connections made with those places and people.

In the introduction of the Somnyama Ngonyama catalogue published in 2015, Muholi wrote: “In Somnyama Ngonyama, I have embarked on a discomforting self-defining journey, rethinking the culture of the selfie, self-representation and self-expression. I have investigated how photographers can question and deal with the body as material or mix it with objects to further aestheticise black personhood. My abiding concern is, can photographers look at themselves and question who they are in society and the position/s that they hold, and maintain these roles thereafter?”[1]

At first glance, the photograph looks like a nineteenth-century ethnographic portrait. It depicts the artist tricked up in a ‘tribal-like’ costume and headgear, and the darkness of her skin exaggerated to mimic the clichés of colonial exoticism.

This makes Sine II - Melbourne, Australia a striking, mesmerising portrait and extraordinarily powerful in its visual message.

Marelize van Zyl

[1] Muholi, Z. (2015). Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Stevenson, p. 7.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 7th Jun, 2023


Aspire Art will impress collectors with this focused, boutique-style auction in Johannesburg. A feature of the carefully compiled collection is a strong focus on contemporary African artists. Collectors of contemporary works from Africa will be spoilt for choice with works by Thierry Oussou (Benin), Richard Mudariki (Zimbabwe) and Banele Khoza (Swaziland). Local contemporary favourites include Nandipha  Mntambo, Cinga Samson and Gerhard Marx amongst others. Contemporary photographers are also well represented with works by Aida Muluneh (Ethiopia), Kudzanai Chiurai (Zimbabwe) and South African international superstar, Zanele Muholi, while important historical images are included with works of Winnie Mandela by Alf Kumalo and a portfolio of twelve works – chronicling the hardships of apartheid – from Ernest Cole’s seminal House of Bondage (1967).

A highlight of the sale is South African modernist Alexis Preller’s, Adam (1972) – a recently discovered, never before seen, work forming part of Preller’s series of Adamic-themed works from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Other significant modern pieces include a unique terrazzo sculpture by Edoardo Villa, still lifes by Maggie Laubser and works by Cecil Skotnes, Walter Battiss and J.H Pierneef. 

The sale concludes with a special section of  William Kentridge editioned prints led by the impressive Blue Head (1993 – 1998).



Viewing will be open from  Friday 2 to Wednesday 7 June 8:30 to 16:30 and Saturday 3 June from 10:00 to 14:00.

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