25 Aug Creative Women: Nandipha Mntambo
Artist Nandipha Mntambo has always been fascinated with the idea of representation and how to portray an identity – whether it’s her own or someone else’s – in a way that is truthful and honest. This has resulted in artwork focusing on the human body and the organic nature of identity. Using her own body as a mold, she mainly works with natural materials and experiments with sculptures, videos, photography and painting. Nandipha has become known for her cowhide sculptures, but recently she has been exploring some of the other tools in her (impressively large) toolbox. Transience, her latest solo exhibition at Stevenson, consisted of video, sculpture, painting and printmaking. She explains that she doesn’t necessarily prefer one medium to another, but she enjoys the challenge of understanding which medium would best help to explore and express a concept or idea she is working on.
As part of our annual Creative Women series, we paid a visit to Nandipha’s studio to find out more about her work.
Tell us a bit about your background and how it has shaped you to become the artist you are now?
My interest was in Forensic Science, it was not really my intention to be an artist. I was interested in art throughout my school life and I suppose I had the good fortune of changing my mind about what I wanted to study at University. I then decided to apply to Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town and completed both my Undergraduate and Masters studies there. Michael Stevenson and I formed a relationship during those year and have been working together since.
Why and how does a lot of your work focus on the female body and identity?
I’ve always had a complex relationship with the politics of representation and how to image other people with honesty. Being aware of how I would like to be seen/imaged makes it easier to understand elements of how I would like to represent myself. I choose to use my own body within my work because I am exploring elements of my identity and how these impact my relationship with myself and society in general.
When, how and why did you decide to work with cowhide?
At University I struggled to find a medium that fascinated me. I guess my interest in Forensics and chemical process creeped in and I was drawn to taxidermy. I ended up getting training from George Esau – a taxidermist that works for Iziko Museums. He taught me a process that helped me understand how to manipulate and preserve the medium.
Please share the process behind your cowhide sculptures. What is the most interesting thing about working with this medium?
I work in a very organic way and don’t always have a clear concept when I start working. The abboitor where I get my hide has a diverse range of cows and so I am always surprised by the hides they have from day to day. They are generous enough to keep hides aside for me if I have a particular colour or patterning I am working with. The most rewarding element of working with this medium is accepting the level of organic and uncontrolable aspects each hide retains even after the tanning process. The hide continues to ‘have a life of its own’ and contains a material memory that can’t be tamed.
What has your recent shift to paint meant for you, professionally and personally?
I enjoy a multi-dimensional life. I think that certain materials lend themselves to particular forms of expression and imagery. A painting and a sculpture give both a viewer and creator a vastly different experience. Being able to work in varied media gives me a multi-faceted understanding of art and how I would like to express myself.
You work in a wide variety of mediums. Please tell us about this.
I have not found a medium that I prefer over another as yet. Each one has its pros and cons. At the moment I am enjoying the challenge of understanding which medium would best help to explore and express a concept or idea. A painting resonates in a different way to a video or sculpture. So having a grasp of different media helps me figure out which I should use to create a particular work. I think I may explore sound next.
Where do you enjoy working from and how does your environment influence the work you produce?
I work from my studio. I have created a great space that allows me to concentrate and have fun at the same time. I need to have as little outside distraction as possible in order to work.
Tell us about your personal art collection. What do you enjoy collecting? Do you have a favourite?
I love collecting work of my contemporaries. My collection comprises of drawing, painting, photography and print making. It has been wonderful to be able to afford to purchase and in some cases swap work with other artists. I don’t have a favourite piece – all the work I have serves a particular place in my home as well as my head and heart.
Which important questions around the female identity do you hope to raise through your art?
My work is more about a universal idea of identity rather than specifically a female one. I am interested in the binaries of the animal/human, male/female and how these elements are a universal connector. Granted I am a woman working in a particular context and face very specific challenges within the space I occupy, but my interest is more in what is not as easily definable.
Which local female creatives inspire you?
Jane Alexander is an amazing sculptor and mentor and Khanyi Dhlomo is an inspirational and focused woman. They are both encouragement of and testament to the fact that a combination of hard work and humility is key to success.
What are you working on at the moment, and what can we expect from you in the not so distant future?
At the moment I am preparing for my next solo exhibition at Stevenson in Cape Town next year. I have also been nominated for the AMIA/AGO photography prize in Canada so preparing for the exhibition and prize giving which is happening in September and October 2014.
See more of Nandipha’s work via Stevenson.
Read more interviews with Creative Women.