b. 1960, Durban, South Africa
South African artist Zwelethu Mthethwa holds a diploma in fine arts from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, and received a MFA in imaging arts in 1989 from the Rochester Institute of Technology, NY, on a Fulbright scholarship. A few years after returning to South Africa, Mthethwa became a lecturer on photography and drawing at his alma mater. Since 1999, Mthethwa has devoted himself full-time to his photographic practice.
Mthethwa is predominantly known for his bold, large-format, color images of marginalized communities facing social or political hardships in South Africa. His style of portraiture situates his subjects intimately in the context of their work or homes, environments that often appear impoverished or neglected. But rather than portraying an exotic or lesser “other,” as has so often been the case with portraits of Africans, the artist collaborates with his subjects and creates images that emphasize their humanity and agency.
A nationally and internationally recognized artist, Mthethwa has had extensive solo exhibitions in the United States, Europe, and South Africa, including Zwelethu Mthethwa, The Baltimore Museum of Art, MD (2012); Zwelethu Mthethwa: Sugar Cane (2003–2007), John Hope Franklin Center, Duke University, Durham, NC (2012); Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Views, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2010); Zwelethu Mthethwa: Gold Miners, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York (2006); and Paris Pour Escale, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1999). His work was represented in Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011); Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography, International Center of Photography, New York (2006); Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf (2004, traveled); and The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945–1994, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (2001, traveled). Mthethwa also participated in the 51st Venice Biennale (2005) and 8th Bienal de La Habana (2004). He lives and works in Cape Town.