Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Views, at the Studio Museum in Harlem from July 15 to October 24, 2010, was the first major US museum exhibition of the South African photographer since 2003. The show drew from three of the artist’s photographic series to focus on the domestic interiors of black subjects in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and New Orleans. With Mthethwa’s customary saturated color, subtle composition, and exacting attention to ephemeral detail, the images depicted the reach of politics in the aesthetics of everyday life. They also revealed the artist’s interest in the longer history of artistic convention and transcultural exchange, drawing on references ranging from seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting to contemporary art. In Mthethwa’s photographs an intense pictorial visuality serves as a starting point for both documentary portraiture and critical inquiry, highlighting both the artist’s stunning images and photography’s capacity to convey both personal expression and the stark facts of social crisis.

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