19th Jun, 2024 19:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 48
Lot 48 - 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.

Sold for R485,205
Estimated at R400,000 - R500,000


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; framed size: 82.5 x 65.5 x 4 cm


Private collection, Cape Town.


Shot in 2020, the gripping Sine II - Melbourne, Australia 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.


  • Photographs from the Somnyama Ngonyama series are highly sought-after. The highest price achieved at auction for one of these was £35,000 in 2020 for the sale of Zodwa, Paris (2014) in London. In 2022, Aspire Art sold Thuthuka I (2022) for a record-breaking R477,960.
  • Listed at no 48 on the 2023 Art Review Power 100 list of the most influential people in art, Zanele Muholi was recently awarded an honorary doctorate from The University of Liège in Belgium.
  • Major solo museum exhibitions were presented in 2023 at the Kunstmuseum Luzern, SFMOMA in San Francisco; Muholi: A Visual Activist at the Museo delle Culture Photo in Milan and the MEP (Maison Européenne de la Photographie) in Paris which was the first review exhibition of the artist’s photographs in France.
  • This year, the Tate Modern will be showing a major survey of the artist’s works – based on Muholi’s 2020/21 Tate exhibition including new works produced since then.
  • The Fondation Louis Vuitton exhibited From South Africa: Zanele Muholi and David Goldblatt in 2022 which showcased the two photographers’ work together. That same year, Muholi was an honouree at the International Centre for Photography’s (ICP) 11th Annual Spotlights Benefit in New York.
  • The artist presented further solo exhibitions at the National Gallery of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland and GL Strand, Copenhagen, Denmark as well as the acclaimed show Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, USA.
  • Muholi exhibited images from the Somnyama Ngonyama series in May You Live in Interesting Times at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019.
  • The artist produced Masihambisane, a project on Visual Activism for Performa 17, New York in 2017.
  • In 2019, Muholi received the Best Photography Book Award from the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation for Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail, The Dark Lioness.
  • Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Cincinnati Art Museum; Fondation Blachère, Apt; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Huis Marseille Museum for Photography, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Museum of Modern Art of Arnhem, Netherlands; National Gallery of Art, Ottawa; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Princeton Museum of Art; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Tate Modern, London; The Art Institute of Chicago; Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCCA), Cape Town.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 19th Jun, 2024




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