Artist Profile: Penny Siopis

Penny Siopis is a South African artist who, throughout her career, has been concerned with what she terms ‘the poetics of vulnerability.’ She has proven herself a legend to be reckoned with both in the local and international context. This article will give an overview of Penny Siopis and her accomplishments in the art world.


She was born on the 5th of February in the year 1953. She was born to German parents who had just moved to Vryburg after inheriting a bakery from Penny’s maternal grandmother.She grew up in the semi-desert town of Vryburg, in the Northern Cape of South Africa. As a child who grew up in an environment close to a natural desert-like habitat, she developed a love for art. She decided to pursue her passion, using it to tackle socio political challenges that plagued South Africa.


Siopis got her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts at Rhodes University in Makhanda and completed her Master’s in 1976. Afterwards, she pursued postgraduate studies at Portsmouth Polytechnic in the United Kingdom. Entering the work industry, she taught Fine Arts at the Technikon Natal in Durban from 1980 to 1983. In 1984, she took up a lectureship position at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. During the same period, she also functioned as visiting research fellow at the University of Leeds (1992–93) and visiting Professor in Fine Arts at Umeå University in Sweden (2000) as part of an interinstitutional exchange.

Current Status

With an Honorary Doctorate from Rhodes University, Makhanda – Siopis is an Honorary Professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Even at age 70, she is still an artist to reckon with. She is represented in South Africa by Stevenson Gallery. Currently resident in Cape Town, Siopis works majorly in painting and also involves in film/video, photography, and installation.


At the initial stage of her career, Siopis focused on the art genres of still life and historical painting. Because South Africa is now in a post-colonial era, she continues to comment on and analyze the complex interrelationship between collective and individual history and the preservation of events rather than relying solely on the mind, which can easily forget things. Her main interests are the physicality and materiality of the paint medium.

The mediums she employs for her artwork are white wood glue and multicolored ink. This choice of medium was purposely to establish the theory that the more human beings are open to non-human materials, the better we can express ideas. The form/formlessness perceived in her paintings is due to her hand strokes and gravity pull.Due to her interest in feminist aesthetics, she further explores such themes as violence, sexuality, and grief.

Siopis has exhibited her artwork both individually and collectively. She took part in the biennials of many cities.

Some of her notable works include:Time and Again: a retrospective exhibition, Penny Siopis, presented at two art galleries: the South African National Gallery and Wits Art Gallery.

Some of her solo exhibitions include Incarnations, Obscure White Messenger, and Three Essays on Shame at the London Freud Museum.

Some of her recent notable international group exhibitions are South Africa, the art of a nation at the British Museum London, After Eden: the Walther collection at La Maison Rouge in Paris, Boundary objects in Kunsthaus Dresden, Unfinished Conversations at the Beirut Art Centre, Lebanon, Public Intimacy at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Prism: Drawing from 1990-2011 at the museum of contemporary art in Oslo.


Having lived through the active resistance to the apartheid in South Africa and the era of rapid social changes, Siopis has been influenced by her environment, which shows in most of her artwork.She borrows some ideas from Neoclassical history paintings and Japanese scrolls.


Siopis has earned a track record of success in her art career, proven by the awards that this ingenious artist has won. She has exhibited locally and internationally since stepping into the limelight in 1975. So far, she has won numerous awards, including the inaugural Volkskas Atelier Award for residency at the Cute does Artes in Paris, A Lifetime achievement award from the Arts and Culture Trust, and the Vita Art Now Award.


Covering stories from France/Italy
An architectue student at the prestigious Oafemi Awolowo University, Praise is passionate about creative design and storytelling. When she's not curled up on her bed reading another book, that is.

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