Zwelethu Mthethwa, Untitled (from Hope Chest series), 2012_TNCM Collection

- Born in Durban and based in Cape Town, Zwelethu Mthethwa is known for his photographs and mixed media works. 

This carefully composed portrait of a woman seated on a chest in front of her house is characteristic of Zwelethu Mthethwa’s approach to creating photographs which are meticulously posed and constructed like formal painted portraits.

Forming part of his Hope Chest series, this work explores the relationship between women and the chests which function both as a prestige object and as containers for precious objects. Hope chests are large wooden boxes a woman traditionally receives as the final wedding present from her family before she marries. Inside are the woman's most prized possessions, which she takes with her to her new home. 

His unnamed subjects read as a typological series, suggestive of an anthropological approach to documenting the ‘other’. This type of photographic approach has received broad criticism by many who view it as a violent approach to portraying the subject as a type rather than an individual. There is a dichotomy in this image between the erasure of the woman’s identity, and the personal, individual contents of her Hope Chest.