Once seen as one of South Africa’s leading resistance artists, Nhlengethwa has grown from this and adjusted the style and content of his works to explore other themes such as music, specifically jazz and the mechanics of everyday living. He works with found printed images from posters and magazines, including his recollections of township life in his imagery.
Nhlengethwa is intrigued by people and their spaces "Throughout the years, all my pieces have dealt with the movement of people. I enjoy paying homage to people and places through my art". In the tributes prints, he pays tribute to some of his visual art contemporaries and others who have paved the way for South African art. He salutes and honours Cecil Skotnes, Helen Sebidi, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Deborah Bell, Dumile Feni, William Kentridge, Judith Mason, Marlene Dumas, Peter Clark, David Koloane, George Pemba, Dumisani Mabaso, Esta Mahlangu, Robert Hodgins and Gerard Sekoto.
All these artists are South African and all of them have secured their place on the local and international art scene. By recreating the works of his contemporaries and role models and then placing them within a represented or imagined gallery space Nhlengethwa provides a new context in which to experience the work of these celebrated artists. The artist's work has been paired up with contemporary interiors and furniture that emphasise Nhlengethwa's understanding of the "mental space" of that particular artist, and then pulled together using Nhlengethwa's own distinctive style.
Nhlengethwa was born in the mining community of Payneville Springs in 1955 and grew up in Ratanda location in Heidelberg, east of Johannesburg. He completed a two-year Fine Art Diploma at the Rorkes Drift Art Centre in the late 1970s. After graduating he taught part-time at the Federative Union of Black Artists (FUBA) in Johannesburg. While he exhibited extensively both locally and abroad during the 1980s and ’90s, Nhlengethwa’s travelling solo show South Africa, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow in 1993 established him at the vanguard of critical consciousness in South Africa and he went on to win the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1994. His work has been included in key exhibitions such as Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and major publications such as Phaidon’s The 20th Century Art Book. He has had several solo shows in South Africa and abroad and has recently exhibited in the 12th International Cairo Biennale (2010) and in (Re)constructions: Contemporary Art from South Africa at Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Niteroi (2011) in Brazil. He has been a resident of the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in Newtown, Johannesburg since the 1990s. Nhlengethwa has received various prestigious awards throughout his career and has attended workshops in New York, Senegal and Cuba.