Body of Work: Nandipha Mntambo

Graeme Wyllie

Nandipha Mntambo

With our monthly Body of Work feature we profile our favourite local creatives by unpacking the ‘anatomy’ of their brains to discover what makes them tick. South African artist Nandipha Mntambo is famed for her sculptures, videos and photographs focusing on the female body and identity. Now, her new work plays with the concepts of light and dark.


As my primary sites of production, I experience labour through my hands. Touching cowhide and stretching it over the moulds I have made used to be quite a gruesome process, but over time, I’ve grown to love the squishy texture of cow fat juxtaposed with wet cow hair. I find working with organic materials and chemicals to manipulate the product very fulfilling.


I’ve recently restored my grandparents’ record player, and am having a great time listening to their records by artists such as Barry White, Ike, Tina Turner and Marvin Gaye. At the moment, I’ve been adding to the collection with lots of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Eartha Kitt. Music plays an important role in my process and keeps the creative juices flowing.


The first time I visited an abattoir in search of cowhide, I was overwhelmed by the scent of life and death that filled the air. This haunting yet exciting contradiction motivated me to create my first major body of work, and the interplay between life and death continues to be a theme in my artworks because we are all continually confronted with the reality of our own mortality.


Eating good food is an essential part of my everyday life and right now, I can’t get enough of Thai curry, especially at So Yum in Hyde Park Corner and Erawan Thai Restaurant and Bar in Bedfordview. Although I’m not the best cook, I’m trying to master foolproof recipes. Learning how to use spices and flavours is a bit like being in a laboratory – because getting the correct combinations in the right quantities makes or breaks the end product.


My eyes are my treasures and I love stimulating them. Experimenting with different colours, textures and forms keeps me excited about my art, and dabbling with light and shadow in my photographic and performance works allows me to expand how I relate to my studio practice. My formal training is in sculpture, but I’ve been teaching myself how to paint, working on creating large canvases with layered black humps and gold leaf. This technique results in works that are primarily dark with illuminations and portions that glimmer. I want to understand light and dark by playing with these contrasts.


Currently I’m reading Louise Bourgeois: Maman, published by The Wanås Foundation in Sweden. Bourgeois is such a driving force in my art-making history, and I’m influenced by the themes and materials she uses in her work. Her exploration of the relationship between herself and her mother and how she expresses anxiety, love, abandonment and longing touches my head as well as my heart.