Mfana, Philadelphia


Silver print

16 × 13 cm (6 5/16 × 5 1/8 in.)

The gaze in this frontal close-up photograph of a truncated face covered in black paint is open and fixed. The model’s gender and identity are uncertain given the lack of a wider context. Only the work’s title, Mnafa, ""boy"" in Zulu, suggests an answer.

It is actually a self-portrait by South African photographer Zanele Muholi. She takes an introspective approach, always covering herself in black, like armour to protect herself from the patriarchal and homophobic violence that threatens her every day. In this intimate, timeless photograph, the intensity of her gaze as she faces the camera is powerfully combined with iridescent monochrome.

Mfana, Philadelphia will be exhibited for the first time by the Pinault Collection during the “Au-delà de la couleur” (“Beyond Colour”) show at the Couvent des Jacobins in Rennes in June 2021.