Award-winning visual artist, Nandipha Mntambo, chats to upcoming visual artist, Mzoxolo X Mayongo about motherhood, collaborating and shares some advice for young artists.
By: Mzoxolo X Mayongo
Main photo supplied by: Mzoxolo X Mayongo
Ever since she scooped the highly coveted “Standard Bank Young Artist Award”, in 2017, Nandipha has been one of the most celebrated black female artists in the African diaspora.
Nandipha broke new artistic ground by using cow-hide and organic material as her main material in her sculptures, videos, photographs and paintings, which deal with, gender identity, sexuality, attraction and repulsion, human and animal.
The artist’s cow-hide sculptures have become part of a prolific collection that defines South African contemporary visual art landscape in the past decade and half. Her work has been featured in exhibitions across the world, including Stockholm, Paris, Brooklyn and Moscow, to name a few. A solo exhibition of her solo work, Material Value, was also shown at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, in Cape Town.
Mzoxolo X Mayongo is a Johannesburg based conceptual artist & activist who uses photography, installations, sculpture and videos as his mediums. His debut work, Ubukho Bendoda, explores sexual orientation, masculinity and femininity. He has shown at the recent Grahamstown National Arts Festival and The Julie Miller Investment Art Institute.
Mzoxolo also hosts the “TalkingMen” seminar which invites men to join in discussions that unpack dialogues about what it means to be a man in today’s society.
Read Part 1 of the conversation: Artists talk: Part 1
Mzoxolo X Mayongo: “The Snake You Left Inside of Me”, exhibited at Stevenson, end of 2017, saw you taking a different artistic direction. Was that a conscious decision?
Nandipha Mntambo: People don’t understand, even as an artist you get bored. There are some artists who continue with the formula they are known for because it’s recognisable and it sells. I guess it’s a ‘security blanket’.
I’ve never been a security blanket kind of person and this is may be the reason why I have gotten to where I am right now. Because if I hadn’t made certain, kind of drastic, seemingly strange decisions I would not have been working in the medium that I’m working in or exploring the ideas that I’ve been exploring.
The other thing is I don’t think people understand that different ways of working answer different questions within the same idea or theme. So even if you are working in the same theme, what you can portray on print versus in painting yields two different things. Processes inform the idea differently, and the outcome.
MxM: You also had sculptural work exhibited at the Nirox Winter Sculpture Fair, can you tell us about that?
NM: Nirox and I have had a long relationship because I have been on a residency there, and have been on few of their sculpture fairs. Nirox had a collaboration with The Wanås Foundation, a sculptor park in Sweden. And I already had made work for Wanås, tilted Enticed Contemplation, which was part of a new series – a complete new body of work.
The initial thought was to transport that work to South Africa, but because of logistical issues and maybe also the universe wanted me to refresh, it wasn’t possible.
When I created the work for Nirox I had the whole idea of being able to look through something. Being able to have a form of protection or a space where one can huddle and be safe; people can see parts of you and you can see them depending on the angle you or they stand.
I worked with an architect, using aluminum mash, to come up with an organic shape that plays with the idea of being home (a house form), to ensure the sculpture was structurally sound and safe. I was dealing with science and art again and I had to collaborate with somebody who understands space and form in a very specific way that is different to me.
MxM: You tend to partner up or collaborate with specialists. How do such collaborations work for you?
NM: The first thing is how you communicate as a person. If you not able to relay your vision to somebody in a way that helps them understand the direction they need to take, then the project has failed to begin with.
The other thing is having a clear conversation with the person that they are the expert that is helping in creating the work. Their suggestion or input is in line and limited to their expertise as oppose to visual suggestion. If something is not going to work, and so on, then they say – you have to set boundaries.
This is the way I typically work. Collaboration has never been a convectional collaboration, for me. It’s more of a helping hand from the specialists.
MxM: When do you know when to say Yes or No?
NM: It’s a combination of things. You have to be strategic in terms of how you maneuver. On one hand you have to build your CV, and on the other there’s a question of visibility, which is a very real question and concern. If you are too quickly say ‘no’ to many things you shoot yourself in the foot, and if you too quickly say ‘yes’ to everything you shoot yourself in the foot too.
I would say look at the institution. Firstly, the space that is going to be housing the work you’ll be showcasing. Figure out who in the past that you admire or find interesting has shown in the space, because association is everything.
MxM: How has motherhood changed you, your art and your process?
NM: As a person, it obviously has given me a different responsibility, a different way of negotiating my time, thereby negotiating who and what I allow in my space. I have had to make lifestyle choices. It has made me a little more circumspect and more solitary in my life.
In terms of my work, the gold leaf in The Snake You Left Inside of Me, exhibited last year, at Stevenson Gallery, was about her. Also, understanding how to work differently, how to use material differently, exploring it in more interesting ways than before, like how I explore printing now. She has definitely shifted my working process.
MxM: Ultimately, what do you want us to experience and take away from your work?
NM: It’s all about being honest. I’m always preoccupied by the same questions: always thinking about those strange binaries and identities, always thinking about material, always think about animal or human, light and darkness, attraction or repulsion … always thinking about the same thing, answering it in different ways and forms.
MxM: Any Advice for upcoming artists?
NM: Firstly, continue working. There are moments when you are either depressed, or irritated, but you have to continue pushing yourself so you can improve your skills. Refine your work, vision and be focused in what you are trying to do.
Secondly, if you make it super quickly don’t get caught up in the hype. Sometimes within a year of flying business class, getting huge artist booking fees for certain things, as quickly that can happen, it can also disappear just as fast. So one has to be aware, keep yourself in check because things can fall apart just as quickly. Also, remember it’s not about you, it’s about the work. Keep on putting in the work and it will carry you through.