South African, born 1960
Zwelethu Mthethwa first came to prominence with portraits of his fellow South Africans, whom he photographs in dignified poses against the backdrops of their homes and workplaces. Although there is no person in this image, it is still a kind of portrait of Esther Mahlangu, an artist from South Africa’s Ndebele ethnic group who has achieved international fame. Inspired by Ndebele women’s practice of painting designs on the walls of their houses, Mahlangu uses bright colors and repeated geometric motifs to create murals and paintings, as well as designs for objects ranging from cars to airplanes. In 2002, Mthethwa photographed her house for his series featuring rooms with empty beds. Despite their emptiness, these rooms tell moving stories about the people who live in them. As documented by Mthethwa’s photograph, Mahlangu’s paintings have a powerful visual and emotional impact. More than mere decoration, they dominate the architecture, dissolving the walls of the simple rectangular room with bold contrasting colors and dynamic patterns.
Label from Window to Wall: Art from Architecture, November 18, 2017–March 18, 2018