Q&A with Nandipha Mntambo

On 16 Mai, South African artist Nandipha Mntambo (b. 1982) opens her first solo exhibition in Europe at Andrehn-Schiptjenko in Stockholm. KUNSTforum asked her some questions about her art and what inspires her.

Titfunti emkhatsini wetfu (The Shadows between us), 2013. Courtesy the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko

Titfunti emkhatsini wetfu (The Shadows between us), 2013. Cow hide, resin. Courtesy the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko

Mntambo’s signature material is the cowhide. Mntambo focus is on the female body, often using her own, and she creates “empty” yet very corporeal sculptures where the shape of the female body collides with the lumpy and coarse cowhide and disrupt conventional perceptions of attraction and repulsion.

What are you currently working on?
I have been commissioned by Pirelli to create work for the Johannesburg Art fair 2013 so am in the process of conceptualising and creating this new body of work.

What are your main influences when creating a work of art?
My work is centered around an attempt to examine the binaries of animal/human and attraction/repulsion. How these ideas influence our thoughts of our everyday experiences is of most interest to me.

Umfanekiso wesibuko (Mirror Image), 2013. Courtesy the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko

Umfanekiso wesibuko (Mirror Image), 2013. Cow hide, resin. Courtesy the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko

My interest in working in cowhide is driven by a desire to understand chemical processes and the influence they can have on organic material. Being confronted by the arguably beautiful female forms I create and the strangely disturbing fact of the material that they are made from, creates an interesting tension when experiencing my work as a viewer. How individuals experience and understand ideas of attraction and repulsion is complex because the boundary between these is sometimes so slight that one can´t always tell which side of it one is on. My interest is in that in-between space that is difficult to clearly point out or articulate.

Can you name an artist/artwork or exhibition that has inspired you?
My inspirations over the years have been Jane Alexander, Louise Bourgeois and Salvador Dali. What´s inspirational about them is the way in which each artist has explored their chosen materials, and how they have articulated an understanding of the animal/human relationship. Each artist plays with ideas of the grotesque and explores the bondaries of attraction and repulsion in an insightful way.

Quiet Acts of Affection XII. Courtesy the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko

Quiet Acts of Affection XII, 2012. Cow hair on Fabriano paper. Courtesy the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko

Can you name a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your works?
My interest has always been in mythology. I find the various myths and legends used as a means of passing on histories of different civilizations intriguing. Mythology of all cultures and civilizations makes reference to the relationship between the animal and human, and my interest lies in all these stories.

Why is art important?
Art is important because it is a universal visual language that allows for communication across many cultural and social boundaries.

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