The Cooper Gallery


We are virtual for now! Click below for our virtual tour...

  • Julile I, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2016
  • Ntozakhe II, Parktown, 2016
  • Bester I, Mayotte, 2015
  • Somnyama Ngonyama II, Oslo, 2015
  • ZaKi, Kyoto, Japan, 2017


Closed until further notice

OPEN:   Monday - Friday, 11AM- 6PM
CLOSED:  Saturday, Sunday, & Official Harvard University Holidays
ADMISSION:  Free to the Public
ADDRESS: 102 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Gallery Tour


We respect your privacy.

Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness

Experience the Virtual Tour


Curated by Renée Mussai

An Autograph Traveling Exhibition

In more than 80 self-portraits, celebrated visual activist Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972), uses their body as a canvas to confront the deeply personal politics of race and representation in the visual archive. In Somnyama Ngonyama, which translates from isiZulu to ‘Hail The Dark Lioness’, Muholi playfully employs the conventions of classical painting, fashion photography, and the familiar tropes of ethnographic imagery to rearticulate contemporary identity politics. Each black and white self-portrait asks critical questions about social (in)justice, human rights, and contested representations of the Black body.

posterTaken in cities across Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa, Muholi's socially engaged, radical brand of self-portraiture transforms found objects and quotidian materials into dramatic and historically loaded props, merging the political with the personal, aesthetics with history - often commenting on specific events in South Africa’s past, as well as urgent global concerns pertinent to our present times: scouring pads and latex gloves address themes of domestic servitude while alluding to sexual politics, cultural violence, and the often suffocating prisms of gendered identities. Rubber tires, cable ties, or electrical cords invoke forms of social brutality and exploitation; ​sheets of plastic and polythene draw attention to environmental issues and global waste, while accessories like cowrie shells and beaded fly whisks highlight Western fascinations with clichéd, exoticized representations of African cultures.

Throughout the series, the dark complexion of Muholi’s skin becomes the focal point of profound visual interrogations into matters of beauty, pride, desire, ​self-care and the many interlinked phobias, and isms navigated daily such as homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, racism, and sexism.





Social Media