Jack Shainman Gallery is pleased to announce Zwelethu Mthethwa’ssixth solo exhibition with the gallery. The show will include photographs from three new series of work including The Brave Ones, Hope Chest and The End of An Era. Mthethwa, known for his large scale photographs, continues to engage the history of photographic portraiture with painterly composition, vibrant color and subjects with a commanding gaze.
The most recent series, Hope Chest, explores the relationship between a woman and her prized object used to house valued possessions. The chests are gifted to a woman on the occasion of her marriage, stay with her throughout her life and are traditionally the last gift she will receive from her family before her new identity as a married woman is assumed. The object represents a psychological time capsule filled with goods specific to the woman’s life as it was, is, and is hoped to become. While the series is photographed in South Africa, the tradition of the Hope Chest manifests itself cross culturally in varying forms. These portraits examine autonomy, ownership, gender and the relationship we cultivate with our belongings.
In the equally gender specific body of work, The Brave Ones, Mthethwa has photographed young men who are devotees of the Nazareth Baptist Church or Shembe. The subjects are separated from the implied ritual and situated within lush pictorial landscapes. Mthethwa’s interest lies less in the religious organization and remains focused on the role of the uniform in the construction and expression of male identity in this multilayered context. By picturing young men in a uniform of pleated skirts, button-down shirts, bowties, athletic socks and decorative headwear, as in the practices of the church itself, amalgamations of influences including the residue of colonialism come together in a patchwork that redefines the individual parts and acts to affirm its members as a collective body.
In The End of An Era, Mthethwa returns to the interior space, removing the human subject and examining the objects and ephemera left behind. The interiors are hostel rooms which house migrant workers traveling to Johannesburg and Durban from Mozambique and Zimbabwe in search of better wages. While drawing attention to socio-economic and political conditions, Mthethwa also focuses on the detailed still lives that surround the workers and the manner in which they arrange their private spaces. Mthethwa’s full trajectory, whether of exterior vistas or intimate interiors, is anchored in a visual poetic and engagement with art history and the history of representation.
Zwelethu Mthethwa, born in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, currently lives and works in Cape Town. He has exhibited extensively throughout the United States and internationally. Most recently the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland, opened its re-envisioned Contemporary Wing with a solo exhibition, Zwelethu Mthethwa,as part of their Front Room Series on view until February 10, 2013. Other solo exhibitions have included Zwelethu Mthethwa: Sugar Cane (2003–2007), John Hope Franklin Center, Duke University, Durham, NC and Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Views, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY. Recent group exhibitions include Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life, International Center of Photography; Environment and Object in Recent African Art,Skidmore College Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, NY which traveled to the Anderson Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, and Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT; Figures and Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK and The Global Africa Project, Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY.
Mthethwa is also included in numerous public collections including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; The Corcoran Museum Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon, Madrid, Spain; Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC; National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.; The New Museum, New York, NY; Samuel Harn Museum, Gainesville, FL; The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK.