Z W E L E T H U    M T H E T H W A

Click on the links below the thumbnails to view the full image with cataloguing
For more information on the artist, see below

The Wedding Cake



Not for sale

Mystery Man


Artist's Statement

Zwelethu Mthethwa´s subject is the living conditions and experiences of the migrant, who comes from rural areas to the city to seek employment in the industrial centres of South Africa:  people in a metropolitan environment, constantly confronted by the everyday domestic issues which result from socio-economic and educational marginalisation.

His theme addresses the cultural disorientation of migrants in their search for survival, as they create new homes for themselves, recycling materials -  such as wood, corrugated iron, plastic sheeting and cardboard – for shelter.  He captures his subject in the interiors of their dwellings, which they have decorated with ‘commercial´ wallpaper and discarded consumer products.

‘In Mthethwa´s  images, the colour seduces and engages us on a visceral level.  Rather than concealing poverty with a romantic narrative, his intense colour, with its dramatic vividness, adds a dimension of celebration, while bearing witness to the ghetto anxiety’.

Says Mthethwa: ‘Art in our day is not really done for art´s sake: it questions issues related to global processes, such as urban industrialization, contemporary cultures, identity crises, gender, race and social imbalances´.

While Mthehwa´s work attempts to bridge cultural gaps, it nevertheless acts as an emotional barometer, capturing the dignity and pride of ‘township´ dwellers, living out the quotidian drama of life in Africa - fetching water, reading newspapers, telling stories, drinking beer in shebeens, leaving home, slaughtering goats and celebrating rites of passage in the new millennium.

(With thanks to absolutearts.com/artsnews/2002/12/18)


Zwelethu  Mthethwa, born in 1960 in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, has a Diploma and an Advanced Diploma in  Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.  As a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, he studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the U.S.A., from which he graduated with a Masters in Imaging Arts in 1989.  On his return to South Africa, he worked for several years in commerce, and, then, in   1994, began lecturing in Photogarphy and Drawing at the Michaelis School until his resignation in  1999 , owing to pressure from a very tight international travelling schedule.  Mthethwa has since practised as a full -time artist, living and working in Cape Town.

Mthethwa began exhibiting in the mid 1980s, and has since received national and international recognition. He has had scores of group exhibitions- in Africa, the USA (in many states), South America, the UK, Europe (in numerous countries), South Korea, Korea, Scandinavia, Japan and Australia.  He has had some 50 solo exhibitions in galleries and museums in South Africa, Italy (several cities), Switzerland, the USA (widely), Germany (several cities), France, Spain and in New York City, where he is represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery (several solo shows).

The 1990s witnessed a huge surge in Mthethwa´s art career,and he continued to be  invited to  participate in international exhibitions and international, blockbuster  shows, such as ‘The Short Century´ (2001 – 2002) , ‘The Gift´ (2001 – 2002), ‘TRADE –Wares, Ways and Values in World Trade Today´ (2001 – 2002); and in Biennales, including the Johannesburg Biennale (1997), the Dakar Biennale (2000, 1998) and the Venice Biennale (2003 ).

Best known  for his large-format colour photography (mostly in the USA and Europe),  Mthethwa also works in pastel and in paint, as well as in large-scale etchings on paper.  

The artist is represented in most major public and corporate art collecions in South Africa, including the South African National Gallery,  Johannesburg Art Gallery, Durban Art Gallery, Pretoria Art Gallery, Tatham  Art Gallery, the Universities of the Witwatersand, of Stellenbosch and of South Africa, Sanlam, Transnet, Gencor, JSE, ABSA, SA Reserve Bank, Rand Merchant Bank, Boland Bank, PKS,. MTN, Vodacom, Siemens,SA Breweries,Wooltru, Old Mutual, Metropolitan and  Herdboys.

Abroad, he is represented in the Smithsonian Museum (USA), ARCO Foundation (Spain), Bouwond (Holland) , Kunsthalle Hamburg (Germany), LA County Museum (USA), Samuel Harn Museum, Florida (USA); and in countless private collections world-wide.

Mthethwa´s creative work has been hailed both nationally and internationally, and has earned him several prizes.  These include the city of Abidjan Prize at the Abidjan Biennale in 1993, the Bertrams VO Award for its  national competition in 1993,  as well as various nominations, including  one for the First National Bank Vita Award..  His work is the subject of a wide range of catalogues, art magazines, art books and monographic articles in leading  international journals  such as   Flash Art, Artforum, Artnews,  Art in America and the New Yorker.

1960   Born in Durban, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa
1984   Diploma in Fine Arts, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa.
1985   Advanced Diploma in Fine Arts, Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT.
1989   Master of Fine Arts in Imaging Art, Rochester Institute of Technology, USA.
1986-87 Cultural Organiser for Department of Education and Training.
1988-89 Assistant Co-ordinator Children's Project for Community Arts Project.
1991-93 Customer Projects Co-ordinator for Truworths.
1994-98 Lecturer of Photography and Drawing at Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT   
1998-2000 Appointed Senior Lecturer, Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT
2000   Research Associate, Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT.

Solo Exhibitions

1986   SA Association of Arts, Cape Town, South Africa.
1987   College Union, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York.
1991   S.A. Association of Arts, Cape Town.
           Solo exhibition African Arts Centre, Durban.
1992   Gallery de Lyons, Cape Town.
1993   Gallery de Lyons, Cape Town.
1997   Kohn Turner Gallery, Los Angeles, USA.
1998   Marco Noire Contemporary Art, San Sebastiano, Italy. Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.
1999   Project Room, Marco Noire Contemporary Art, ARCO, Madrid, Spain. Project Room, Art Koln, Marco Noire Contemporary Art, Koln, Germany.
           Gallery Hengevos and Jensen, Hamburg, Germany. Art Chicago / At Navy Pier, Marco Noire Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA
2000   Galerie Hengevos and Jensen, part of the Triennale  der Photographie, Hamburg 1999.  Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY, USA.
           Rebirth, Project Room, FIAC Paris, Marco Noire Contemporary Art, Paris, France.
           Olivia Aruana Gallery, Madrid, Spain.  Sacred Homes - Mother & Child, Palazzo delle.   Esposizioni, Rome, Italy, curated by Maria
           Grazia Tolomeo and Teresa Macri.
2001   Centre National de la Photoraphie, curated by Regis Durand, Paris, France. The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.
           Art Unlimited, Basel Switzerland.  Galerie Jensen, Hamburg, Germany.  Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

Group Exhibitions

1986   Michaelis Gallery, University of Cape Town.  S.A. Association of Arts, Cape Town.  Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, University of Natal, Durban.
1988   Bethume Gallery, S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, New York.  Rainbow Gallery, S.U.N.Y. Brockport, New York.
1989   Memorial Art Museum, Rochester, New York.
1990    N.S.A Gallery, Durban.
1991   Dalijosafat Arts Centre, Paarl.  SA Association of Arts, Cape Town, South Africa.
1992   Singapore Exhibition, Group Show of South African artists, Singapore.
1993   Grand Prix International d'Arts Plastiques, International Visual Arts.  L'Aigle de Nice. Biennale of Illustration Bratslava, Slovan Republic
           Abidjan Biennale, Ivory Coast. Gallery de Lyons, Cape Town, South Africa
1994   Crosscurrents, S.A. artists group show, Barbara Gillman Gallery, Miami Beach, USA.
           S.A. Artists, Ottobrunn, Germany.
1995   World Economic Forum Group Show, Davos, Switzerland.  Crosscurrents, Very Special Arts Gallery, Washington D.C., USA.
           Africa 95, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, UK.  Artists for Peace '95, Palais des Nations (UN, Geneva) traveling to Geneva, Switzerland and Dusseldorf, Germany.
           S.A. Association of Arts - 3 Person Show, Cape Town.  Johannesburg Biennale, Johannesburg, (shown in Cape Town as well).
1996    Chicago Art Fair, Chicago, USA.  Adelson Gallery, New York, USA.   Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town.
1997    Lift Off, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.  Trade Routes: History and Geography, curated by Okwui Enwezor and Octavio Zaya
           Johannesburg Biennale, Electric Workshop, Johannesburg.
           CRAM, Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town
           Kohn Turner Gallery, Los Angeles, USA.
           Photo Synthesis- Contemporary South African Photography, Grahamstown Art Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa.
           National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo, Norway.
1998 Houston Photo Festival, USA.  Dakar Biennale, Senegal.
           History of African Photography, La Maison Europeenne de la Photo, Paris, France.
           Africa, Africa, Tobu Museum, curated by Toshio  Schimizu, Tokyo, Japan.  Democracy's Images: photographs and visual art after Apartheid, Bild Museum, Sweden.
           Africa by Africa Barbican Art Gallery, curated by Carol Brown, Barbican Centre, London, Great Britain
           Yesterday Begins Tomorrow: Ideals, Dreams, and the Contemporary Awakening, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, curated by Francesco Bonami, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
           Blank ….. State of Architecture + Urban Planning in South Africa, Netherlands Architecture Institute (This show travels through Europe in 1999 and comes to South Africa in 2000).
           Architecture, Apartheid and After, curated by Hilton Judin, Van Reekum Museum, Rotterdam, Holland.
1999   Basel Art Fair.  Brussels Art Fair.
           Images for Dignity, (Public art) PhotoEspane 99, Barcelona, Spain.
           Staking Claims, The Granary - part of the One City Many Cultures Festival, Cape Town, curated by Emma Bedford.
           Towards-Transit, Zurich, Switzerland.  Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa, Museum for African Art, New York, USA, travels to Austin Museum of Arts (Texas) - 2000; Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University in Calafornia - 2001; The University of Arizona  Museum of Art in Tuscon,  Arizona - 2002.  Photoespana 99: images of dignity, curated by Miguel Angel Invarato,Madrid, Spain.  Site Santa Fe: looking for a place, curated by Rosa Martinez, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. Goteborgs Kunstmuseum, curated by Lena Boethuis, Goteborg, Sweden. Rewind fast forward. Za, curated by Bozzie Rabie, Van Reekum Museum in Apeldoorn, Holland. Project Conflux, Tendaces Mikado, Luxembourg. South Meets West, Ghana National Museum. Fondazione Bevilacqua (avec Shirin Neshat), curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, Venice, Italy.
2000   A3HB, Hans Bogatzke Collection of Contemporary African Art, Camouflage, Brussels. Cream II, 10 curators conversation on the internet, curated by Octavio.
           Zaya, New York, USA.  South Meets West, Kunsthalle Bern, curated by Bernard Fibicher, Bern, Switzerland.
            Immodest Gazes, curated by Rosa Olivares and Marta Gili, Fundacio La Caixa, Barcelona, Spain.  Arts and Human Rights, Kwangju International Biennale, Seoul, Korea. Dire Aids - Say Aids, curated by G Cochrane, G Verzotti, E Cucco, A Vettese, Promotrice delle Belle Arti, Torino. Italy Home, Perth International Arts Festival, curated by Gary Dufour, Thomas
            Mulcaire and Trevor Smith, Art Gallery of Perth Cultural Centre, Perth,Australia.
           Il Sentimento del 2000, Arte E Foto:1960/2000 curated by Daniela Palazzoli, La Triennale di Milano, Milano, Italy.
           Rotterdam Foto Biennale, curated by Clive Kelner, Rotterdam, Holland.  Simultaneous, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York,  Biennale Dakar, curated by Hans Bogatzke, Dakar, Senegal.
           Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Australia. Video Brazil, curated by Clive Kellner, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
           L'Afrique a jour in collaboration with Biennale   Dakar 2000, AFAA, Lille,  France.
           Project Conflux, Association for Visual Arts, CapeTown.
            Pusan International Contemporary Art Festival, curated by Roasa Martinez, Pusan, Korea. AREA 2000, curated by Gavin Younge, Kjarcaisstadir, Reykjavik, Iceland.
           Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia.
           Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, curated by Pascale Marthine, Paris, France. Project Conflux, Hotel de Ville, Dijon, France. Project Conflux, South African Embassy, Paris, France.
           Project Conflux, Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein, South Africa.
2001   The Short Century, curated by Okwui Enwenzor, Musee Villa Stuck,Munich, Germany. Africa 2000: The Artist and the city, curated by Josep Subiros, Barcelona. Center for Contemporary Culture, Barcelona, Spain. Paris pour escale, Musee d'Art Moderna de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France. Chicago Art Fair Basel Art Fair ARCO, Madrid, Spain. The Gift: Generous Offerings, Threatening Hospitality, travelling exhibition opening Palazzo delle Papesse, Siena travelling to Pala zzo Candiolo, Venice and  San Fransisco, USA.  Curated by Gianfranco Maraniello and Antonio Somaini. Trade, Wintherthur, Germany. Centro de Bellas Artes,  Madrid Spain. Frankfurtkunstverein, Frankfurt Germany.  

General and Academic Achievements

1981 Awarded the Simon Gerson Prize for the most promising art student (UCT).
1984    Awarded the Class Medal for graduation with a distinction in the Fine Arts Department, (UCT).
1985 Won the Irma Stern Scholarship.
1987 Won the Fullbright Scholarship to study in the USA (Rochester Institute of Technology).
1993 Won the City of Abijan prize, Biennale, Ivory Coast.
Won the Bertrams V.O. Award Indigenous People
1994 Invited to judge, select and appraise work for the Volskas Atelier Award Competition.
1995    Vice-Chairman of the S.A. Association of Arts, Western Cape.
1996    Vice-Chairman of the Association for Visual Arts and convenor of its Selection Committee.
Committee member of the Friends of the S.A. National Gallery.
1998   Nominated for the Vita Awards.
1998   Panelist, National Arts Council.
1999   Adjudicator, National Panel for the ABSA Atelier Awards. (National)    Jury Member for Damilier Chrysler Award. (National). Adjudicator, Windsor Newton Millenium Painting Competition. (National).    Adjudicator, Zonnebloem Fine Art Wine Label Competition. (National). Adjudicator, Truworths Painting Workshop. Elected on to the Association for Visual Arts Executive Committee. Co-curated Lines of Sight, South African National Gallery, Cape Town.


1999   NKA - Journal of Contemporary African Art, Spring/summer 1999 edition, p.46-49, text by
Michael Godby. Octavio Zaya, "Identity Webs", Flash Art International, November. Biennale de Santa Fe, Artforum, September Teresa Macri', Il cuore pulsante della township, Il Manifesto, Feb. 21st  Bozzie Rabie, "Rewind" Fast Forward, ZA. exhibition catalogue Van Reekum Museum in Apeldoorn, Holland, June.  Tisiana Conti, Tema Celeste, January.  Guido Curto, Flash Art, January.  Hilton Judin and Ivan Vladislavic', Architecture,  apartheid and after.  Exhibition catalogue Van Reekum, Rotterdam. Holland, Nai publishers.  Octavio Zaya, "Zwelethu Mthethwa: styles and desires of people living on the margins of urban culture", Flash Art, October 1999.
1998    Jurget, No 90, December. Toshio Shimizu, Africa Africa, exhibition catalogue Tobu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan. Guggenheim Magazine, Spring. Octavia Zaya, Atlantica, Desde Sudafrica curated by Okwui Enwezor, No19 Frederique Chapius, Les Africains, Telerama, No2533, 29 July. Arts in America, June 1998 Siksi, The Nordic Art Review, No3-4, Autumn/Winter, Stockholm. Cristina Katistan, Sydafrica i gryningljus, Torsdag, 12 November, Stockholm.
1997   Newart, December ADDA, No 13
1997    Andre Magnin and Jaques Soulillon, Contemporary Art of Africa.
2000   Nka - Journal of Contemporary African Art. Fall/Winter 2000, pg.92-95
Books / Catalogues
1998    Monographic Books, texts by Octavia Zaya, Teresa Macri', Michael Godby, published by Marco Noire, Turin, Italy. Project Rooms, catalogue for exhibition in Arco/Madrid, published by Marco Noire, Turin, Italy. Blank - Architecture, apartheid and after, published by Hilton Judin and Ivan Vladislavic, NAI publishers, Rotterdam, Holland.
1999   Project Conflux, catalogue for exhibition in Luxembourg, published by The Association for Visual Arts, South Africa. The Alembic Spirit, limited edition art portfolio, curated by Melvyn Minnaar and published by Hard Ground Printmakers for the South African Brandy Foundation.  Sweden, South Africa… A Photographic Art Exchange, Produced by Futuniture and Rikta Kommunikation, with support of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Institute, Stockholm 1999. Art in America, December 1999 edition, Report from Santa Fe, Places of the Art, p.46-51 Il Sentimento del 2000, Arte E Foto:1960/2000 Produced by Daniela Palazzoli, La Triennale di Milano.
2000   Sacred Homes - Mother & Child, Produced by Marco Noire Editore.

Public Collections

Durban, Cape Town, New York, Sasol, S.A. National Gallery, Wooltru (Cape Town), Cape Department of Education Trust, Durban Art Gallery, Tatham Art Gallery (Pietermaritzburg), Gilbey's Ltd., Metropolitan Life, South African Breweries, Old Mutual, Mary and Leigh Block Gallery (North Western University), University of the Witwatersrand, Gencor S.A. Ltd., University of South Africa, S.A. Embassy (Washington D.C., USA), Transnet Ltd., Pretoria Art Museam, Sanlam, Johannesburg Art Gallery, S.A. Reserve Bank, Herdboys, Rand Merchant Bank, Smithsonian Museum (Washington D.C. USA), Smithsonian, Arco Foundation, University of Pretoria., Boland Bank PKS, Museum of Contemporary Art (Hamburg, Germany), ABSA Bank.

Special Project

1999    Futuniture, Sweden Ministere Culture Communication, France

2012 All rights reserved. Origination by Di Conradie