Nandipha Mntambo works with raw cow-hide. She has gone through the arduous – and sometimes nauseating – process of skinning and tanning the hides herself. She moulds the still-fresh hides onto plaster casts from her own body, or onto shop dummies: “I have to really pull, stretch and nail down the hide so that it takes on the desired shape, but natural forces also play a part in the final result.”
What does the cow-hide itself suggest to you? Does the allusion to cattle seem to symbolise power? Wealth? Ownership? Lobola? Or does it remind us of clothing – the kind of covering for bodies used in early times, before textile and cloth? Or the important traditional ceremonies that still, to this day, involve the wearing of animal skins?
It alludes to all this, but also more. It presents a sensory surprise for viewers, in the (seeming) contradiction between the female shape it contains, and its extreme hairiness – and its obvious resemblance to the beast it once was. This raises questions about gender, and also about beauty. It challenges many people’s expectations about how the female body “should” be represented.
Think about this. What is your
response to this challenge to our expectations? What is your response to the work itself?