In this edited excerpt from their conversation at Aperture, Zwelethu Mthethwa presents his acclaimed portrait series, Interiors, included in his self-titled monograph. Mthethwa shares his desire to create “a contemporary history” that portrays people in a humane light. Shooting primarily in the outer regions of Capetown for this series, Mthethwa paid special attention to the colorful decorations within his subjects homes and looked to show their beauty, dignity and resourcefulness despite the overcrowded living conditions of the outer-city. During their conversation, Okwui Enwezor and Zwelethu Mthethwa debate the role ethics play in the photographs and Mthethwa touches on the relationship he develops with his subjects, describing the shoot as “a difficult dance.”
The full version of this talk is available on vimeo and on our multimedia section, divided in four different clips.
This conversation between Zwelethu Mthethwa, a key figure in the South African post-apartheid photography movement, and Okwui Enwezor, a pioneering critic and curator, took place on the occasion of the March 2010 publication of Mthethwa’s long-awaited first comprehensive monograph by Aperture, to which Enwezor contributes an essay.
The book presents Mthethwa’s powerful series of portraits portraying black South Africans as relentlessly dignified and defiant, even under the duress of social and economic hardship. Working in both urban and rural industrial landscapes, Mthethwa documents a range of issues pertaining to South Africa—from domestic life and the environment to landscape and labor issues. His images challenge the conventions of both Western documentary work and African commercial studio photography, marking a transition away from the visually exotic and diseased—or “Afro-pessimism,” as Enwezor has referred to it—by employing a fresh approach marked by color and collaboration.
Zwelethu Mthethwa has had over thirty five solo exhibitions around the world. His work has been featured in the 2005 Venice Biennial, 2008 Prospect. 1 New Orleans and Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent. He is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.
Okwui Enwezor is dean of academic affairs at the San Francisco Art Institute and the former artistic director of both Documenta XI and the second Johannesburg Biennale.