Since Apartheid's fall in 1994 Zwelethu Mthethwa's stunning portraits have powerfully framed black South Africans as dignified and defiant, even under the duress of social and economic hardship. Working in urban and rural industrial landscapes, Mthethwa documents a range of aspects in South Africa from domestic life and the environment to landscape and labour issues. His work challenges the conventions of both Western documentary work and African commercial studio photography, marking a transition away from the visually exotic and diseased or "Afro-pessimism," as curator Okwui Enwezor has referred to it and employing a fresh approach marked by colour and collaboration.
Mthethwa (born in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa) received his BFA from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town a then "whites-only" university; he entered under special ministerial consent. In 1989, he earned a master's degree in imaging arts while on a Fulbright Scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York. Mthethwa has had over thirty-five international solo exhibitions in the United States including the highly-acclaimed Inner Views at Studio Museum in Harlem, 2010 France, Germany, Italy, South Africa and Switzerland. Mthethwa has also been featured in numerous prominent group exhibitions, including the 2005 Venice Biennial; Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography, New York, 2006; Prospect.1 New Orleans, 2008; and Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, which toured internationally.