Nandipha Mntambo: Creating mirror images of the human body

In this exclusive interview Nandipha Mntambo tells us about the extension of mythology in her photographic work.

Artist and photographer Nandipha Mntambo presented her thought-provoking photographic work at Design Indaba Conference 2014, on a panel of South African artists alongside Athi-Patra Ruga and Zanele Muholi. Here Mntambo explains her inspirations, motivations and desires as a photographer.

Much of Mntambo’s work sees an extension of mythology and seeks to portray civilisation’s fascination with alternate realities such as the half-animal, half-human, hybrid creature. Her Europa series explores this idea. A collaboration with photographer Tony Meintjes, Europa depicts a fictional woman based on Mntambo, with references to dynamics of male/female and animal/human attraction and repulsion and how these juxtapositions are often understood. 

The challenges of using myself as the mould or object in my work is that it often makes me feel uncomfortable; it exposes elements that I like and don’t like about my relationships and myself, says Mntambo.

Mntambo’s photographic series Silent Embrace saw her create a sculpture using cowhide, stemming from her interest in chemical processes and organic materials. Using her mother as the mould, Mntambo tried to understand how her mother felt about her own body and how this could translate to Mntambo’s understanding of herself.

Giving insight into the performance element of her work, Mntambo says: “It’s definitely something that I didn’t realise was always there.” Believing that working alone in a studio is in itself an act inspired Mntambo to design a performance piece in a bull-fighting arena. Entitled Ukungenisa, this project saw her trying to understand how to be the fighter, animal and audience all at the same time.

‘Imaging’ people for me felt like quite a complicated thing because the politics of representation are complex. I have not reached a space where I feel totally comfortable representing other people in a way that is fully real, concludes Mntambo.

Watch the Talk with Athi-Patra Ruga, Nandipha Mntambo, Zanele Muholi, Hans Ulrich Obrist