Zwelethu Mthethwa

South African; b. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 1960

Untitled (Father and Son)


color coupler print mounted on to UV-protected plexiglas with aluminum strainer
38 x 51 x 1 1/4 in. (96.5 x 129.5 x 3 cm)

Gift of Julia J. Norrell in honor of Jacquelyn Days Serwer
© Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY


Contemporary artist Zwelethu Mthethwa trained as a photographer in South Africa in the 1980s, when apartheid restricted the education and artistic production of black artists. Governmental censorship and control over photographers led Mthethwa to the United States to study at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He eventually returned to South Africa and, after the fall of apartheid, began generating large-scale color photographs that portray his native country from a humanistic perspective.

The subjects of Mthethwa’s work range from empty beds to mining populations and the sugar cane industry. This photograph, from his portrait series called Interiors, 1995–2005, depicts a vibrant, makeshift dwelling in a shantytown on the periphery of Cape Town. Its occupants—father and son—are collaborators in the image making process. The father poses stoically amidst a domestic space that, like other homes on the outskirts, features walls made of cardboard and grocery advertisements. Though Mthethwa utilizes such portrait sessions as opportunities for sitters to gain confidence and assert their integrity, the details of the interior reveal the impoverishment and dislocation facing many South Africans as a result of post-apartheid political and social conditions.