Zwelethu Mthethwa was born in 1960 in Durban in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Having dropped out of a medicine degree at the University of Zululand, a chance encounter at an informal art project with the artist Charles Sokhaga Nkosi in 1979 led Mthethwa to photography.
‘The images are never “stolen shots” that capture “the moment”... For me, colour restores people’s dignity.’
He studied Fine Art at the whites-only Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town, where he was one of just two black students. Mthethwa’s decision to work in colour marks a break with the “Black-and-white 80s”, when photographers such as Peter Magubane in Drum magazine, and South Africa’s most renowned documentarist David Goldblatt, deployed the stark clarity of monochrome to convey the harsh living conditions of blacks under Apartheid. Mthethwa collaborates with his subjects on the way in which they are represented. For
his Untitled (Interiors) series, he photographed migrant workers proudly seated in their makeshift homes furnished with recycled billboard posters.