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Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi [1980 -] | Johannesburg, South Africa

Nkosi is a multi-media artist who resists the limits and elitism often associated with painting as art form. She sees painting as a way of notation, of actively processing thoughts and reflections. Her compelling paintings are part of a larger collection of stories in a diverse array of mediums such as video, installation and performance, with a strong emphasis on collaboration and communication.

Heroes is a series of oil portraits first shown in 2013 and has since grown in number of subjects, artistic development and exposure, having gained international acclaim when showcased at ‘Being There’, a contemporary South African exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris (2017). Heroes depicts a diverse range of personalities, some more familiar than others, raising questions about the concept of “hero” and prompting the viewer to ask, “Should I know this person?” The portraits are just slightly larger than life, in a format reminiscent of an ID photo, and installed at eye-level to reinforce a sense of familiarity. 

Nkosi’s work investigates power and its structures – political, social, architectural. Implicit in her examination of these structures is an interrogation of the invisible forces that create them, and an imagining of alternatives. She sees her subject choices as monuments to ideologies, referring to her architecture painting as “portraits” and her human portraits as “figures”; this inversion suggests the objectification and reductionism inherent in hero worship. 

The artist works across a number of projects simultaneously, splitting her time between studio work, collaborative practice and raising her young child. A first venture into her own history, Beginning of Stories represents painful personal stories of political exile, genocide and migration. Planned as large-scale, graphic novel style panels, the work is destined for exhibition in the USA in 2018. 

Nkosi’s paintings and films have been shown at significant galleries and museums in Johannesburg, Berlin, London, Rio de Janeiro and Paris. She obtained her BA from Harvard University and her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. She lives and works in Johannesburg.

Find out more about Thenjiwe's story here.

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