Nandipha Mntambo’s solo exhibition, Material Value, presents artworks that span an entire career of using cow hide and the cultural, historical, and universal associations we attribute to this medium.
The obsessive use of bovine by-products and the complex associations we attribute to cattle allows a multiplicity of readings of Mntambo’s work. The idiomatic and proverbial references and associations of tauromaquia (bullfighting) in Mozambique, imbue her work with ambiguities and contradictions, arising from the assumption of a binary universe and the problematics of the obvious dichotomies they present: male/female, huma nimal, protection/destruction, attraction/repulsion, and public/private. Mntambo strives to fuse imagination, desire, memory, and material with images that not only challenge a conventional framework but also the Occidental reading of image making and art history.
Mntambo’s engagement with the physical and tactile properties of cowhide, resides in its counteractive properties, its malleability when wet and rigidity when dry, both inhibiting and facilitating her artistic interventions. In this sense, the material takes on agency, a female figure, with the ability to control the outcome of its own form. The concept of anthropomorphism is extended to the material consciousness that remains in the cell of each hide as it moulds to the shape of a ghostly human figure, presenting a liminal boundary between humans and the animal kingdom.
Does the power of representation lie in the seen or in the remnants and memory of the seen? How do we equate the deafening silence of the empty stadium, the hollow gown, the silent army?