Nandipha Mntambo completed a Master’s in Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, in 2007. She is currently based in Johannesburg. Mntambo originally intended to study forensic pathology, but found her way to Fine Arts in an unusual, but fortunate, shift in her career trajectory. Within her sculpture, photography, video and mixed media works, Mntambo’s acute interest in the human body is evident.
Mntambo is perhaps best known for her cowhide sculptures (with the cured hide draped over human forms and set with resin) which confront and question the relationship between humans and animals. These investigations into organic nature and the corporeal address performance, gender, identity, life and death.
‘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. I have used cowhide as a means to subvert expected associations with corporeal presence, femininity, sexuality and vulnerability. The work I create seeks to challenge and subvert preconceptions regarding representation of the female body.
‘Themes of confrontation, protection and refuge play out particularly in relation to inner conflicts and to notions of self-love/hatred. The bronze, Sengifikile, uses my own features as a foundation, but takes on the guise of a bull. Referencing the head-and-shoulder busts of the Renaissance tradition, I challenge male and female roles in society and expected associations with femininity, sexuality and vulnerability.’
In 2017, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa presented Material Value, a solo exhibition of her work, including the impressive installation of the work EMABUTFO (2012) in which dozens of hide/human spectres were suspended in mid-air, occupying the gallery room in their haunting formation. Her bronze sculpture, Ophelia (2015) is featured in the sculpture garden of the Norval Foundation in Cape Town, as a permanent acquisition in the institution’s collection.
In 2011, Mntambo won the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art, for which she produced the travelling exhibition Faena.
She was shortlisted for the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize in Canada (2014), was a Civitella Ranieri Fellow (2013), and received the Wits/BHP Billiton Fellowship (2010).