Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi

Gymnastic performance as allegory for artistic practice.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, born 1980, was raised between New York, USA; Harare, Zimbabwe and Johannesburg, South Africa - where she lives today.

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The artist was born into exile. Her father was a member of the Pan Africanist Congress and the narrative she grew up with was that her family were in America waiting to return home to South Africa, a parallel life waiting in another country. Understandably, her work has been informed by subjects of race, place and identity.


Works featured in collections around the world including the Dean Collection, USA, the University of Cape Town Art Collection, South Africa, and the Nando’s Collection, UK.

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Collaborations with this artist

Practice overview

While Nkosi is best known as a painter, her practice spans multiple mediums including film, installation and performance. In her paintings, clean, geometric blocks depict scenes of people and architecture in the artists’ signature colour palette of calming pastel tones. Nkosi uses oil on canvas, carefully layering her compositions over time in a process she likens to meditation.

In contrast to the tranquil aesthetic of her work, Nkosi’s practice confronts complex and often chaotic notions of identity, race, power, memory, migration, and athleticism. Gymnasts in particular are an important symbol throughout the work, with nearly all of the figures being women of colour who are modelled on recording-breaking athletes like Simone Biles. This symbolic gesture, paired with the artists’ sharp vision for colour, line, and balance, creates a compelling form of art that is about the act of painting itself, and the social issues that it represents.

"The future of our world relies on people working together and not against one another."Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi