In Conversation with Nandipha Mntambo

Nandipha Mntambo is a South African contemporary artist who has become famous for her sculptures, videos and photographs. Using her own body as a mold, she creates sculptural forms that dramatically fuse the feminine body with primal, animal skin. She says her sculptures made from cowhide, are influenced by her interest in forensic science and chemical processes. In her recent show, Mntambo takes on another identity using bronze. In this revealing interview with Oliver Enwonwu, she tells us why, as well as more about her recent experiments.

You were born in Swaziland but raised and educated in South Africa. How have these varied influences impacted on your work?

The world is quite a globalized space so I feel that my experience of growing up and how I was educated is more influenced by globalization rather than place.

You embrace a multi- disciplinary approach in your work; photography, sculpture, video, printmaking and painting. Which is most vital to your practice and how do you combine them to achieve your goals?

The reason for my multidisciplinary way of working is that I don’t believe one can achieve or express the same idea within all media. For instance, painting and photography are very different media that have the potential to mimic each other but can never exist as replacements for each other. I have no preferred medium or material because I feel that they all function differently.

You’ve achieved much recognition for your sculptures made from cowhide. What informs this choice of media?

My interest in forensic science and chemical processes.

Your cowhide sculptures draw from a deep understanding of your media. Please take us through your processes and techniques. Are these processes as significant as the finished work?

I’ve always been a very process driven person. The choice of what hide to use, the process of scraping the fat from the inside of the hide, understanding the chemicals to use and then eventually allowing the final drying of the hide onto the mould I have chosen are all very significant. The final artwork exists in a separate realm because once the work is displayed, the very private elements of the way that I work occupy a public sphere.

Please can you tell me the thinking behind the triptych Enfold Me VI?

This work is a part of a series of paintings I have been making for the past few years, centered around my understanding of the landscape of the body and the simplification of form.

You have also begun recent experiments with isolated strands of cow hair, Lover’s Last Frontier, serving an excellent example. What do you like about the ephemerality of this medium and what does it contribute to the title of the work?

My hair drawings are part of the process of understanding mark-making and looking at drawing in a different way. I’ve always been interested in the shifts that have happened in our understanding of art material and product—this is an extension of my process.

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