Zwelethu Mthethwa

ZAF (1960). Lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Dance of Life, 2006
Black and white video, sound, 4’

In the video The Dance of Life, Zwelethu Mthethwa, one of the most celebrated South African contemporary artists, clearly expresses the idea of maintaining social cohesion within a dance troupe. Named after Henri Matisse’s painting, Mthethwa chose to incorporate similar abstract qualities into the space, the movement, and the sound. In a closed room, men, women, and children run around in a circle and are directed by one figure who spins in place. Children share in the ritual, performed in preparation for adulthood. In this environment, there is a struggle between the loss of identity and the cultural resistance present in elements such as their wardrobe and the rhythm of the dance. In this work, the artist expresses his personal view of the circular trance of a religious rite, a means of healing and introspection, metaphorically similar to the modern concerns of the black community in South Africa.

Mthethwa’s work is built from tradition, although imbued with a fascinating contemporary presence. Just as in his series of photographies, the artist reflects on the duality of space: the first space is the physical one in which the dances move about and the second is the psychological space created by the changing rhythm of the heart’s beat.