Zanele Muholi - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 11, 2023 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • In their series Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness), visual activist Zanele Muholi occupies the role of both subject and image-maker in a way that is distinctly their own. The series was featured in a 2020-2021 exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, prior to which W profiled the photographer:


    “The unforgettable works in Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness are a divine ode to Black women past and present, in Africa and beyond. In this series of black and white self portraits, Muholi becomes the participant, encouraging viewers to question what they were taught to find beautiful, and why. Often adorning themselves with different domestic materials as a tribute to their mother, who was a domestic worker for a white family (and resultantly absent from Muholi’s childhood), Muholi alludes to the broader history of colonization and enslavement. Muholi also uses symbolically loaded poses and props which both summon and challenge visual stereotypes of African women and oppressive white beauty standards. By drawing on familiar aesthetic tropes, like fashion magazine covers and advertisements, Muholi dismantles the Western narrative by replacing the typically white bodies and faces that fill these frames with depictions of radical, queer, Black beauty.”


    — Cassidy George, ‘Zanele Muholi’s Photographs Celebrate Radical, Queer, Black Beauty,’ W, 2 November 2020


    Other prints of Bona, Charlottesville (9781), are in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Tate Modern, London. A major UK survey of Muholi’s work is planned for 2024-2025 at the Tate Modern, opening in June 2024. The exhibition is based on the 2020-2021 exhibition and will include new work.


    The remarkable group of photographs comprising Lots 161 through 200 in this auction come from the collection of Fred and Laura Bidwell, collectors, philanthropists, and founders of the Transformer Station, the renowned exhibition space for contemporary photography and art in the Hingetown neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. The Bidwells’ collection presents a truly enlightened selection of work, ranging from classic practitioners such as Lee Friedlander and Stephen Shore to photographers working at the very cutting edge of today’s artistic practice, such as Kehinde Wiley, Zanele Muholi, and Hank Willis Thomas, among many others. Themes of identity and self-representation course through these works. An inquiry into the intrinsic nature of photography is another through-line, with artists as conceptually diverse as Alison Rossiter, Matthew Brandt, and Christopher Williams pushing the boundaries of the medium to deepen our understanding of it. Central to the collection is Hiroshi Sugimoto’s masterful Lightning Fields 128 (lot 169), which is emblematic of the creative spark underlying Bidwells’ progressive conception of photography.


    Driven by a passion for photography and a desire to make their collection accessible to the public, the Bidwells renovated a former Cleveland Railway Company transformer substation into a state-of-the-art exhibition venue. Boasting 3,500 square feet of exhibition space, the Transformer Station became a vital part of the city’s artistic community, hosting exhibitions drawn from the Bidwells’ collection, exhibitions curated by the Cleveland Museum of Art, as well as performances and talks. Earlier this year, the Bidwells gifted Transformer Station to the Cleveland Museum of Art which will continue to use this unique space. 


    Proceeds from the sale of these works will support the Bidwells’ active philanthropic endeavors. 



    Read More about High Voltage →


    • Provenance

      Yancey Richardson, New York

    • Exhibited

      I Sing the Body, Transformer Station, Cleveland, 5 July - 6 October 2019

    • Literature

      Aperture, Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, pl. 41 and back cover

High Voltage: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection of Fred and Laura Bidwell


Bona, Charlottesville (9781), from Somnyama Ngonyama

Gelatin silver print.
31 3/8 x 19 5/8 in. (79.7 x 49.8 cm)
Signed in ink, printed title, date, and number 5/8 on a gallery label affixed to the reverse of the flush-mount.

Full Cataloguing

$20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for $22,860

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs


Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 11 October 2023