Phumulani Ntuli was born in 1986 in White City, Soweto, in a vibrant community of people sharing anecdotes and laughter, borrowing a pinch of salt from the neighbours, and community meetings headed by his grandfather. He was the second-youngest in a predominantly female group of eleven grandchildren all raised by his grandfather. The comfort of the home provided by his grandfather created an impression of abundance.
Ntuli cites his mother, a Sunday School teacher, as the primary influence in his youth. The household observed Christian prayers and regular church attendance introduced Ntuli to music through joining the church band and choir. He played the trombone and drums under the tutelage of a neighbour.
His burgeoning interest in the arts extended to African literature when he was introduced to the writing of Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o by his late friend Themba Moyake. Together, they formed an art club in high school, winning several schools art competitions. This planted the seed for Ntuli to pursue a career and achieve his dreams through art.
However, his artistic aspirations were temporarily put on hold as he bowed to the pressure to follow a lucrative career, enrolling for an accounting degree. During this period, he suffered the devastating loss of both his mother and grandfather. The profound impact resulted in a change of course, with Ntuli enrolling for a BTech degree which he completed at the University of Johannesburg. He went on to earn a Masters in the Fine Arts – Arts Public Sphere from (ECAV) Ecole Cantonale D’Art du Valais in Sierre-Switzerland. He was awarded Prix-excellence for his ongoing research project “Permutations of an event” which centred around notions of archives and surveillance.
His opus merges the ambit of artistic research, sculpture, video installations and performative practices. His process is formulated by artistic convergences between documentation(s), images and visuals as spaces of engagement. Ntuli consistently engages diverse audiences and draws attention to gaps, pauses and silences in history. His artistic framework contrasts the realities of the past and present with his aspirations for the future.
Ntuli has exhibited and contributed artworks to the Congo Biennale in 2019, the 2016 Kampala Biennale in Uganda curated by Elise Atangana, and the 2016 Bone Performance Festival in Bern Switzerland, curated by Valerian Maly. He performed in the 2016 Act Festival in Geneva, Basel, Sierre and Zurich. He has also participated in residencies and workshops at the Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella, Italy and AIR Antwerpen in Belgium.
Ntuli says, “I am interested in the collision between reality and fantasy because something happens when they meet. I think memory becomes so unreliable because it is fragmented, it’s like a piece of a puzzle or as a frame of a photograph, which isolates one pixel from reality. This fragmentary stance is explored in my work. It is a general phenomenon in my works to see cloned bodies often in groups and making implied inscriptions on the land and bodies inscribed and haunted by images of the past. My figures pose different gestures and movements which is implied in the eyes of the viewer. My fictional figures are often witnesses and forensic subjects performing the inscriptions on the land. I think that is how stories and memory can be perceived, through the space and places people occupy. I believe we have a shared history, and it is through this lens that I wish and hope for people to live together, not just as fictional geography which is a dream and cannot be attained. This is also a reason why I became an artist, and the purpose of my art is to observe, analyse, reflect and bring people together.”