"Kodwa I, Amsterdam," 2017. © Zanele Muholi/Courtesy of the artist, Stevenson Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson, New York

“Kodwa I, Amsterdam,” 2017. © Zanele Muholi/Courtesy of the artist, Stevenson Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson, New York

France has named South African photographer and activist Zanele Muholi a Chevalier d’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters), an honor awarded to people in the arts who have contributed to culture in France and the world. Muholi, acclaimed for her portraits of South Africa’s LGBTQ community and her work to combat homophobic violence in her country, was given the honor by Christophe Farnaud, the French ambassador to South Africa, at a ceremony in Pretoria on November 21, according to Yancey Richardson Gallery, which represents her.

“Muholi’s work has raised the subject of LGBTQI rights in South Africa and internationally,” said Farnaud. “It shines a light where there is shadow, it creates a space where there was none.”

Muholi’s series “Faces and Phases” has been published as a book by Aperture and exhibited around the world. In 2002, she co-founded Forum for Empowerment of Women. In 2009, the murder of a lesbian in a township near Johannesburg inspired Muholio to start Inkanyiso, a media collective for black, queer “born frees” (the term for South Africans born after the end of apartheid). Members document their own history through writing, photography and video.

Muholi’s mentor, photographer David Goldblatt, attended the ceremony in Pretoria. He has previously been named a Chevalier and risen to rank of Commandeur. The Order of Arts and Letters was established in 1957 by the French Minister of Culture. Other artists named Chevaliers include photographers Olafur Eliasson and Pablo Bartholomew, writer Alice Munro, movie directors Ang Lee and Tim Burton, actors Cate Blanchette, Jude Law and George Clooney, composer Philip Glass and singer Shakira.

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