Zwelethu Mthethwa

03 Apr - 11 May 2008

© Zwelethu Mthethwa

April 3 - May 11, 2008

Mthethwa is an internationally recognized artist whose portraits of men and women in their domestic or work environment are known for containing a strong psychological and narrative charge. His photographs are created in a scale and composition that establish a confrontation between the subject and the spectator. Drawing upon the history of both painted portraiture and photojournalism, his work often comments on traditional and sometimes stereotyped roles of black men and women and how these are rapidly changing.
At Andréhn-Schiptjenko Mthetwa will present his most recent body of work, Contemporary Gladiators. Shot over a long period of time in Moçambique they depict young boys living in and off a dumping site, only 15 kilometres from the up-scale Phemba Beach Hotel, a resort of the kind that to its visitors masks the unspoken and non-visualised consequences of poverty and whose marketing of African exotica depends on the exploitation of cheap human labour.
Focusing on both the context and subject of discard, Mthethwa simultaneously criticises conditions produced by imperial capitalism in post-colonial Africa and puts to the fore the double abjection to which these young children are subject - consuming waste they are themselves considered abject. The title Contemporary Gladiators points to the consequences of the destruction of family structures where children have become responsible for their own sustenance and socialisation. The visual positioning and framing of the boys in Mthethwa's photographs, where the subjects look straight into the camera not only to dialogue with the photographer but also to return any gaze assuming to structure, frame and condition them, engages a conversation with the viewer.
Zwelethu Mthethwa was born in 1960 in Durban, South Africa and lives in Cape Town. His work is included in numerous public collections, including MoMA New York, SF MOMA, The Guggenheim, LACMA Los Angeles, and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, as well as in private collections worldwide. His work has recently been on view in group shows at the National Gallery of New Delhi, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, The Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, MUSAC Castilla y Leon, CRAC Alsace and MCA Chicago. Upcoming projects include the Biennial of New Orleans, curated by Dan Cameron, as well as an extensive survey exhibition organised by the Studio Museum in Harlem and due to tour.

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