Born in South Africa in 1960, Zwelethu Mthethwa is an internationally recognized photographer whose portraits of men and women in their domestic or work environments are known for containing a strong psychological and narrative charge. Mthethwa’s photographs are created in a scale and composition that establish a confrontation between the subject and the spectator. Drawing from the history of portraiture, documentary photography and cinema, Mthethwa’s works often comment on the traditional roles of Black men and masculinity, and raise consciousness around issues related to post-apartheid South African society.
In an article by Larissa Leclair about a monograph of Mthethwa’s work, he said, “The work is about my personal history and personal observation. I grew up in contact with these different communities all the time. I was always interested in how the migrant workers would be ostracized from the main community, which was the community that I came from. The migrant workers were always seen as “the other” – they looked different, talked different, dressed different – they were just so different. As a kid I was curious to understand the dynamics of these differences, mainly because we were all black, I assumed we were all the same. Growing up as an artist I came to realize that I was also an outsider because with my views on life I probably didn’t belong to any of the communities, even the mainstream community.”
Mthethwa received a diploma and an advanced degree in fine arts from Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town from 1984 to 1985. A Fulbright scholarship enabled Mthethwa to attend Rochester Institute of Technology for his Masters of Fine Arts in Imaging Art in 1989.
Mthethwa’s work was included in The Experience of Art in the (2005) Venice Biennale and in the (2004) Gwangiu Biennale. Solo exhibitions include Zwelethu Mthethwa, The Baltimore Museum of Art (2013), and Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Views, Studio Museum in Harlem (2010). His work is included in many several collections including The Corcoran Museum Gallery of Art, Guggenheim Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon, The Museum of Modern Art, Nasher Museum of Art, National Museum of African Art, the Centre Pompidou, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Museum, South African National Gallery, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Victoria & Albert Museum among many others.
Jack Shainman Gallery has represented Mthethwa since 2000 when he had a solo show called Recent Photographs. Other solo exhibitions with the gallery include New Works (2013)(2009) (2003), Gold Miners (2006), and Lines of Negotiation (2004).