16 August - 15 September 2007
Michael Stevenson is pleased to present the first solo exhibition of rising star Nandipha Mntambo. Born in Swaziland in 1982, Mntambo graduates in June with a Masters degree in Fine Art with distinction from the Michaelis School, University of Cape Town. She has already received critical notice as one of five young artists selected for the 2006 MTN New Contemporaries exhibition at Johannesburg Art Gallery, and has taken part in a number of local and international exhibitions.
Mntambo has developed a distinctive aesthetic through her use of cowhide, which she tans and moulds onto casts of the female body - usually her own. She purchases the hide as raw as possible in order to engage fully with the material - its smell and textures causing revulsion but also provoking a consciousness of the corporeal. The hairy skin, cast in female form, is used, Mntambo says, to "challenge and subvert preconceptions regarding representation of the female body", and to "disrupt perceptions of attraction and repulsion".
The fragments of forms - torsos, faces, ears - are suspended in particular configurations, on their own or in relation to each other. Among the works on show are Indlovukati, in which a single pale-coloured skin sensuously delineates the back and buttocks of a majestic, ghost-like woman; Lelive Lami, a floor-length dress with cows' tails forming a train; Iqaba Lami, which makes reference to the 19th-century dress incorporating the Victorian bustle adopted by the Herero women of Namibia; and The Fighters, in which two figures - made respectively from black and tan skins - are hung in dynamic confrontation.
"Through the interpretation of my own and my mother's bodies, I have taken control of their representation, and directed the way in which viewers encounter these forms in both their material realisation and installation. The figures, although hanging, have assertiveness in their posture and are intended to be sensuous but ambiguous in their presence. While these fragments of female form may elicit repulsion, it is repulsion intended to evoke the residue of life and the actual presence of the corporeal rather than the female body as victim, damaged, abused or abject." (To read the full text from which this is excerpted, click here.)
Mntambo's latest work is a series of 11 photographic prints, titled Silent Embrace. Each is a translation of one of the figures, moulded from her mother's body, that make up Mntambo's installation Beginning of the Empire. This work was inspired by Peter Magubane's 1968 photograph of mineworkers, naked and raising their arms for inspection. Silent Embrace marks both a return to the material that inspired the work and an entry, for Mntambo, into a new medium. Beginning of the Empire has been selected for the upcoming exhibition Apartheid: The South African Mirror at the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona (opening 26 September) and travelling to the Foundation Bancaja in Valencia in 2008.
Other recent shows include Afterlife at Michael Stevenson (2007); Olvida Quien Soy - Erase me from who I am at the Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (2006); Second to None at Iziko South African National Gallery (2006); and In the making: materials and process at Michael Stevenson (2005).
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