Nandipha Mntambo: art beneath the hide

11 May 2011

Nandipha Mntambo, the 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for visual art, is known for using cowhide as a canvas for exploring the creative process and challenging societal and cultural norms. Now she’s taking her exploration further.

“My intention is to explore the physical and tactile properties of hide and aspects of control that allow or prevent me from manipulating this material in the context of the female body and contemporary art,” Mntambo said in the catalogue for her 2007 solo exhibition Ingabisa.

“I have used cowhide as a means to subvert expected associations with corporeal presence, femininity, sexuality and vulnerability.”

Brenton Maart, the National Arts Festival committee member for visual art, describes Mntambo as “one of South Africa’s most remarkable young sculptors … Her mastery of an incredibly difficult medium, animal skin and hair, allows her to shape morphing structures that are part human and part animal, part alive and part dead, part grotesquely revolting and part sensually enticing.

“It is this ambivalence, that sense of unease, that elevates Mntambo’s work above the level of the commonplace into the ranks of the astonishing.”

Visitors to the 2011 National Arts Festival, taking place in Grahamstown from 30 June to 10 July, can expect something new from the artist, however.

‘A shift within my art’

Mntambo, along with the other Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners, will be showcasing her newest work on the main programme of the festival.

Mntambo’s exhibition, Faena, will not only extend her interest in bullfighting (the term “faena” refers to the most skilful section of a bullfight, a dance with death in which the matador must prove both his (or her) courage and artistry).

The show will also extend the artist’s own range, using the media of painting, drawing, video and sculpture to creates an experience/encounter that interrogates the viewer’s sense of sight, hearing, smell and touch.

“Grahamstown will see a shift within my art practice,” says the 28-year-old Mntambo. “I have begun working in various media, and this show is going to be a new departure for me as a visual artist.

“I’m inspired by my everyday environment, the past and the present … I’ve also been experimenting with photography, video and performance. It’s great to be able to diversify.”

Career so far

Mntambo’s solo exhibitions have included Umphatsi Wemphi at Brodie/Stevenson in Johannesburg (2009), The Encounter at Michael Stevenson in Cape Town (2009), Ingabisa at Michael Stevenson (2007), and Locating me in order to see you at Michaelis Gallery in Cape Town (2007).

Her work has also been exhibited as part of numerous group exhibitions around the world. In 2010 her work formed part of nine different exhibitions in Berlin, Australia, Senegal, Wales, Denmark, Germany, Paris, Rome and Newtown, Johannesburg.

In 2009 she also exhibited in the US, UK, Mali and Norway, and again in Germany. In 2008 her work travelled to Italy and again to the UK, in 2007 to Spain, and in 2006 to the Canary Islands.

Mntambo was awarded the Wits/BHP Billiton Fellowship to do a three-month residency at the Wits School of the Arts in 2010. In 2006 she was a finalist in the MTN New Contemporaries Award, and in 2005 she received the Brett Kebble Curatorial Fellowship.

She was also a recipient of the Mellon Meyers Fellowship in 2003 and 2004 to study at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. She graduated with a Masters of Fine Art (with distinction) in 2007.

Mntambo is in the process of completing a commissioned public sculpture for the Nedbank head offices in Sandton, Johannesburg, and another for the Gulbenkien Foundation in Portugal.

SAinfo reporter

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