Well-known South African photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa has been found guilty of murdering a sex worker in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, in 2013.
Mthethwa received a Fulbright Scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he received his master’s degree in imaging arts in 1989. He is among South Africa’s most famous artists and has had 35 solo exhibitions internationally. His works have been shown at important institutions around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the International Centre of Photography, New York; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; and at the Venice Biennale. Mthethwa is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.
During the trial, the prosecution presented CCTV footage linking Mthethwa to the crime scene. The footage shows the artist’s black Porsche pulling up next to 23-year-old Nokuphila Kumalo. The driver is then seen exiting the car and attacking the young woman. He killed her “by repeatedly kicking her and stomping her body with booted feet,” said the indictment. Mthethwa argued that it was not him in the video‚ and called on “gait” experts to testify that the manner in which the attacker walked did not match his style of walking. However, Judge Patricia Goliath stated in her ruling that the video furnished a “silent witness.”
Women’s rights activists rallied outside the courthouse over the course of the lengthy trial with one placard reading, “Sex workers are not your Art”.
Mthethwa uses environmental portraiture, often taken in quiet domestic settings, to explore the life of migrants, farmers and miners in post-apartheid South Africa. He told PDN that in photographing marginalized South Africans in their homes, “I really wanted to empower the people.”
ArtNet reports that Mthetwas’s bail has been revoked while he awaits sentencing on March 29, 2017.
Image credits: Header photo by SWEAT.