Times Live | Philani Nombembe:
Demand for the works of world-renowned photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa – accused of bludgeoning a Cape Town prostitute to death – could skyrocket, say art experts.
Blood Flowers: Zwelethu Mthethwa. Image by: H ZANTMAN
Mthethwa, who has garnered fame for his large-scale photographs of working-class South Africans, is on trial in the Cape Town High Court for the murder of Nokuphila Khumalo, 23, in Woodstock in April last year.
Though Mthethwa’s legal costs are believed to be bankrupting him, two leading South African art specialists believe his criminal case will make his work more appealing to buyers.
Stephan Welz, managing director of fine art auctioneers Strauss & Co, likened Mthethwa’s predicament to that of the famous South African writer Herman Charles Bosman, who spent four years in jail for murdering his stepfather.
Welz said: “I think people will always look at the work in terms of the quality rather than the man himself. Herman Charles Bosman was on death row but fortunately he got out of prison. His best work is about his time in prison and people respect him as a great writer.
“If Zwelethu does go to prison he might produce something really interesting.”
Art specialist Ruarc Petters agreed, drawing parallels between Mthethwa and Renaissance artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, who fled Rome in the early 1600s after killing a man in a brawl.
“I don’t believe that the trial will necessarily have any negative effects on Zwelethu’s market. Caravaggio spent most of his mature life running around Italy trying to avoid the law and today he is one of the most sought-after artists of all time.”
Mthethwa has had more than 35 solo exhibitions in the US, Italy, Germany, Spain, France and Switzerland.
His work sells for between $5000 and $28000.
But curator and art collector Warren Siebrits believes the trial is “detrimental” to Mthethwa’s “short-term commercial prospects”.
“In the event that he is found guilty it will take a very long time for his name to be rehabilitated.
“Collectors will go cold. This is not the kind of violation you want to be associated with.”
Though Mthethwa lives in an up-market suburb on Devil’s Peak and drives a Porsche, his lawyer, William Booth, told the court on Friday that his client had money problems.
According to prosecutors, Mthethwa was linked to the crime scene through CCTV footage that shows Mthethwa stopping his car next to Khumalo and attacking her.
A tracking device in Mthethwa’s car shows that he left his home during the early hours of April 14 and drove to Woodstock where the murder took place.
The case was postponed to June 13.
Mthethwa is out on R100000 bail, and could apply for legal aid if he cannot afford a lawyer.
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