(South African, b.1960) is a South African photographer and painter, born in 1960 in Burban, South Africa. Mthewthwa studied art and painting at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Upon receiving a Fulbright Scholarship, he studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology receiving a master’s degree in Imaging Arts in 1989. After returning to South Africa and spending some time working in business, he taught photography and drawing at the Michaelis School. He left the position in 1999 to focus full time on his artwork. Rejecting the austere, journalistic black and white photography of South African photographers like David Goldblatt
(South African, b.1930) and Roger Ballen
(American, b.1950), Mthethwa joined a new wave of post-apartheid photographers who chose to work in color, which, he said “provided a greater emotional range.” In the mid-2000s, he became known internationally for his richly colored photographs of coal miners and migrant workers in the South African fields. In 2010, he exhibited Inner Views
at the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY, which showcased work from three series that concentrate on interior shots of people in their homes. The emphasis on the abstract and graphic patterns found in the subjects’ homes signaled a direction reminiscent of African portraiture such as the photography of Malick Sidibé
(Malian, b.1936) and Samuel Fosso
(Cameroonian, b.1962). Included in the Studio Museum show was a series entitled Common Ground
, which juxtaposed portraits Mthethwa took in 2008, in a New Orleans still affected by Hurricane Katrina, with photographs of Cape Town interiors that had endured wildfires. The images were displayed without specifying the location, stressing the universality of human suffering in both places.
Zwelethu Mthethwa has had over 35 solo exhibitions worldwide and participated in the 2005 Venice Biennale and the 2004 Gwangju Biennale, and in the subject of a monograph published by Aperture