Among those who expressed dismay was former minister of arts and culture Lulu Xingwana, who is now minister of Women, children and people with disabilities. Xingwana defined the photographs as immoral because some pictures portrayed women passionately embracing each other.
Titled Faces and Phases, the thought-provoking exhibition has been a hit internationally. It has toured countries like Switzerland, Italy and Brazil. It recently had a run in Oldenburg, Germany. The exhibition is back on home soil, set to open at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg on November 27.
Muholi started the concept in 2006 and saysFaces and Phases is a lifetime project that she will continue for as long as she lived.
She says the "Faces" in the title represent the person and "Phases" signify the transition from one stage of sexuality or gender expression and experience to another.
"It is about the multiple identities of all the people who are featured, including me. 'Phases' articulates the pain that the gay and lesbian community experiences due to the loss of friends and acquaintances through disease and hate crimes.
"These portraits also celebrate friends and acquaintances who hold different positions and play many different roles within black queer communities," she says.
Cara Snyman of the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg said: "Zanele Muholi's Faces and Phases is significant work - her frank portraits are arresting and an important statement. The members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, in particular, are quite regularly targets of violent crime. The work looks at the social and political relevance in a society that is still fraught with prejudice, yet remains artistically exceptional."
Muholi explains that the concept is special because it is rare for people to be exposed to so many black-and-white portraits.