Arena for Contemporary African, African-American and Caribbean Art

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi

NikiSunstrum (After Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum) 2017.


Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi

Sunstrum, After Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, 2017.





“What I wrote was very linked to the Heroes series. The portraits grew out of a questioning of the new money that had come out just before. I was frustrated by that idea that the only person we were choosing to memorialise was Mandela. And I started thinking about who gets memorialised and why. Who chooses who gets memorialised? What is this figure of “the hero”? How does it function? I remember getting some emails from friends saying things like “Oh, I hear that he’s sick.” People had heard that (my partner) Daniel’s grandfather had worked with him, and they also knew that my father knew him. “This must be a hard time for you and your families”. I remember being unsure of how to answer those emails. So it came from a few connected things: the beginnings of the sanctification, the construction, of the Mandela icon as it reached its apex in his death, the new money, these emails, the media flurry around his death – I started thinking about the writing of history in general, and how frustrating the single-hero narrative is. So the paintings were really a response to that; and the article I wrote – well, a friend of mine works at the Washington Post and wanted a South African to write something after Mandela’s death. “I knew that your dad knew him, would you write something?” I said, “Ya, but I might not write what you think I’m going to write”. She said, “That’s fine”. I thought it was an important moment to speak frankly and honestly, and from a personal perspective, about my frustrations. And to talk about the construction at work. That’s what I’m interested in – structures and constructs.”

NikiTranslator (After Krotoa) 2016.

Translator, after Krotoa, 2016.

NikiMother (After Winnie Mandela) 2013.

Mother, after Winnie Mandela, 2013.

NikiMido (After Mido Macia) 2013. Oil on canvas. 50 x 50cm.

Mido, After Mido Macia, 2013

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi was born in New York and has lived in Harare and Johannesburg on and off since the early 1990s. She is a painter, video artist and filmmaker who divides her time between studio work and navigating the field of art as social practice