Pitika Ntuli was born in 1940 in Springs and grew up in Witbank in Mpumalanga. While a teacher, artist and critical thinker living under the threat of apartheid in the sixties and seventies, Ntuli was forced into exile in Swaziland and arrested and made a political prisoner until 1978, when international pressure forced his release to the UK.
Having already completed an MFA at Pratt Institute in New York in 1977, he finished an MA at Brunel University in London, in 1985 after which he lectured art at various international and South African universities including; Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Wits University. He was an artist in residence in the 1980s and ‘90s at schools and colleges in London. Among many other leadership appointments at South African universities, he served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the UDW.
His contribution to the development of arts and culture in South Africa has been immense. He served as director at the Sankofa Institute for the African Renaissance and, Fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute, among many other fellowships. He was awarded the Arts and Culture Trust – Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 and the City of Johannesburg named him a ‘Living Legend’ in 2012.
He has curated several exhibitions,. In his capacity as an artist he has staged numerous solo exhibitions in South Africa, Germany and the United Kingdom.
His works grace numerous important corporate, private – such as Paul Simon, USA, and Akufo Addo, Ghana - and public collections such as the African American Institute, New York, USA and Constitutional Court, Johannesburg, SA.
Primarily a sculptor, Pitika’s work expresses a sense of haunting loneliness – a distress at the pillaging of a continent and culture through the lens of post-colonialism. His stark skeletal structures are created in any physical medium he can find: metal, wood, stone, and bone and can range from small to monumental works in granite that weigh in excess of 19 tons.
"In Art, the creative act is a titanic battle between flesh and spirit. Each artwork is a diversion of the flesh, the body. Each time the artist dies, a new work is born, or rather the opposite: each time a work of art is born the artist dies a little. A little death invokes a greater desire to live and thus creates another artwork. When the artist dies finally, she continues to live through her offspring – her children and her artworks. "
While there is an element of darkness on display in his work, there is a strong sense of wit and tongue-in-check irony present in each of his sculptures.
Pitika is also a poet, often combining classical Eurocentric form and clichés when discussing the destruction and pillaging of the African culture and landscape.