Nandipha Mntambo’s work addresses ongoing debates around traditional gender roles, body politics, and identity. She works in photography, sculpture, video, and mixed media to explore the liminal boundaries between human and animal, femininity and masculinity, attraction and repulsion, life and death.
Born in Mbabane, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Mntambo currently lives in Johannesburg. In 2007, she completed a Master’s in Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town.
Mntambo is best known for her figurative cowhide sculptures which allude to the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. In her work, she focuses on the human body and the organic nature of identity, using mainly natural materials and experimenting with sculptures, videos and photography. One of her favourite materials to use in her pieces is the skin of the cow, often also used as a covering for human bodies – boneless sculptures – and thus oscillating between evoking the garments that can be shod at will and the bodies that once contained living, breathing, masticating beings with four stomachs. Mntambo embraces this ambiguity and likes to play with the tension between the sightly and the unsightly by manipulating how her viewers negotiate the two aspects of the hide.
She uses her own body as the mould for these sculptures and does not intend to make an explicit statement regarding femininity. Rather, Mntambo uses these hides to explore the division between animals and humans, as well as the divide between attraction and repulsion.
Notable solo exhibitions include The Snake You left Inside Me at Stevenson (Johannesburg: 2017) Metamorphoses at Stevenson (Cape Town: 2014); Nandipha Mntambo at Andréhn-Schiptjenko (Stockholm, Sweden: 2013) and Faena, a travelling exhibition showcased at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth, and at Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town (2011).
Mntambo’s participation in group shows include Regarding Africa: Contemporary Art and Afro-Futurism at Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2017); the 12th Edition of Dak’Art, the African Art Biennale in (Dakar, Senegal: 2016); Disguise: Masks and Global African Art at Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, USA: 2015); What Remains is Tomorrow for the South African Pavilion (56th Venice Biennale: 2015); The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists (Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK), Frankfurt/Main, Germany: 2014), Nandipha Mntambo at the FNB Joburg Art Fair (Johannesburg: 2013) and the 3rd Moscow International Biennale for Young Art (Moscow, Russia: 2012).
She has been shortlisted for the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize in Canada (2014), was a Civitella Ranieri Fellow (2013), received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art (2011) and the Wits/BHP Billiton Fellowship (2010).
Mntambo’s first solo show with Southern Guild, Transcending Instinct, opened in February 2022, and featured an installation of large-scale seating objects and paintings. It was not only the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, but also marked her first venture into functional sculpture.