In Conversation with Manthe Ribane, a Soweto based Performance Artist

NOT x Chris Saunders | A Fashion & Photography collaboration from New York to South Africa featuring Manthe Ribane

Manthe Ribane is a performance wunderkind. She is the muse in the NOT x Chris Saunders fashion and photography collaboration shot in Johannesburg that we’ve recently been featuring, and the last interview to close out the series.



© Chris Saunders. Manthe Ribane wearing the Not X Macdonald Mfolo pantsula inspired costume and puppet.


The talented Soweto-born artist has been making a name for herself since childhood, after discovering that she loved dance and performing. It’s not everyday that an 8 year old performers for a head of state as she did, when she danced for the late Nelson Mandela.

She’s a creative engine, that invariably stand outs from the crowd. From the Manchurian inspired shaved bob with long braids, to the pastel blue lipstick. She could be right at home strolling the streets of Shibuya. But that is probably already three or four looks gone by now.


You can come from the dingiest place, but it’s about how are you going to take yourself, as trash or as golden? Nobody knows your struggle or what you’ve left behind at home, but it’s how you are going to represent yourself out to the world that matters the most. – Manthe Ribane


She’s candid in our interview, and opens up to share some of the hardships she’s encountered and epiphanies too. The list of notable collaborators is impressive: Manthe’s posed for renown photographer Akinbode Akinbiyi, appeared in a South African tourism campaign, she dances on tour with Die Antwoord, the notorious rap-rave band that went global in 2010 and has been part of numerous scene making movements, from the wacking, pantsula, voguing, crumping, popping moves in alternative dance crew  V.I.N.T.A.G.E cru to her more recent project, Dear Ribane. And these are but a few. She’s only going to gain momentum. It won’t be surprising to see more and more of her talents.


Missla Libsekal | What was your epiphany? How did dance/modeling come to you?

Manthe Ribane | In my childhood, there was a talent show we used to watch on TV every Friday – they’d dance, it was a competition and they’d win! It opened up the idea that actually this was possible. I started performing at school doing talent shows, and creating our own Spice Girls. Cisco, Boom Shaka, Brenda Fassi were big inspirations. They were the most fashionable people with yellow wigs. The first performance I did was with my sister in 1996 at FNB stadium for Madiba’s [Nelson Mandela] birthday.


NOT x Vernac Overlock Coat as modeled by Manthe Ribane. Photo | Chris Saunders.

© Chris Saunders. NOT x Dennis Chuene Collaboration


Is there something, an experience that stands out that helped you find your voice and medium?

The experience of losing so many loved ones every year. It became an uncontrollable situation, but you have to accept it. But the acceptance transformed into ‘How do I express this? How do I elevate my expression?’ I grew into something that I never thought I’d grow into. It informed me on a strong level. Also, knowing that my brother and sister are holding up due to my strength. It’s not about where we’re from, but about the loved ones that we’ve lost, and how are we going to gain through the ‘loved ones’ we’re going to produce in the future.


AA_NotCS_Collab_DC-4© Chris Saunders. NOT x Dennis Chuene (Vernac) Collaboration


If you described yourself with key words what would they be?

Patient.  Emotional. Very strong. Very passionate about arts and passionate about “tear drops”: a package of so many emotions.  I started performing around 3 or 4 and my mom would light up whenever I’d perform. That was the key that made me realize, “Wow actually, if she can smile, I can imagine how others could smile too!”

What inspires you?

My brother and sister. They define love for me. They inspire every word of inspiration. The fact that we don’t have a TV; we prefer to speak more to each other than to watch a movie. I can get so much knowledge from my younger brother. I’m inspired by people who are getting up in the morning to make a difference, to change the world in a positive way. And lastly, what life has to give to us – that’s the biggest inspiration.


NOT x  Floyd Avenue circle cape, dungarees and hat as modeled by Manthe Ribane. Photo | Chris Saunders.

© Chris Saunders. NOT x Floyd Manotana (Floyd Avenue) Collaboration


You’ve traveled around the world performing with Die Antwoord, how did this experience influence you?

The tour with Die Antwoord became a book that I never believed I would read from. Being a part of that book was what I needed to discover and realize what’s happening out there – that the world doesn’t end in South Africa. It opened up a new “brain cell”. When I came back, I just needed to reflect on a lot of things. You can’t compromise yourself, because you have a powerful tool to create change.

Do you feel any tension between local vs global aesthetics and how culture can inform perception?

When I started wearing my bob hairstyle, I started thinking and living in my own Chinese way. I started creating my own Chinese words, collecting those styles of shoes. I just became that person, and not because I didn’t believe in my own hair but because I felt like embracing other cultures. I think this world is so big because you’re here to explore, and inform, and enjoy and live however your journey take it.

Chris and Jenny saw you as the muse, and character to animate each of the NOT x Chris Saunders collaborations.  The locations were important for them,  what inspired your movements for each shoot?

The shoot in the recycling area was very powerful. The men are from a rural area in Lesotho, they have families there, but the father are in Joburg working for their kid’s matric. I could relate, because I had a father who would do anything for his daughters and son.  I had a deep connection with those guys without them expressing to me what the real situation was – so it was a powerful moment. My granny had a calling to be a healer, and she used to tell me: ‘You need to pay attention to your inner voice. If you lose it, you won’t be Manthe Ribane.’ The word “Manthe” means an African broom. That’s why I love cleaning so much. It’s a healing, meditational process. The one on the building rooftop, I’m a goddess standing up for every woman in Africa. They are looking at you to fight for them. The hat felt like a crown for a queen with the black paint and the gold lips, speaking words of gold. The journey made me feel so powerful.


 NOT x Chris Saunders | Dr. Pachanga Collaboration as modeled by Manthe Ribane.

© Chris Saunders. NOT x Jean-Rene Onyagunga (Dr. Pachanga) Collaboration


The city of Johannesburg, and its Gold mining history were some of the motifs for the shoots. Can you let us in on what codes you were playing with? How you interpreted the styling and make-up?

The NOT x Vernac character is a global story. How can you define a bag that can create so many jobs around the world, protect so many lives, but still be one with you, still keep your stories and your secrets? It’s just a bag, but it’s not just a bag.  That’s the idea behind that performance. Also it was shot in the Noord, the place that connects you to every place you need to be in Joburg.

For the Not x Floyd Avenue,  outfit that character is someone who could cover the world, like a mother. I will represent, I will fight for you. It’s crazy how an outfit can just transform you. She’s wearing a crown, but she’s still wearing a dungaree. The lips are gold, meaning she spoke gold in the city of gold. For me, the face paint is both playful and powerful. Black is very dark and powerful, aggressive. But the gold keeps it godly and mysterious.

For NOT x Dr. Pachanga  character where my face is painted gold, I really felt golden. You can come from the dingiest place, but it’s about how are you going to take yourself, as trash or as golden? Nobody knows your struggle or what you’ve left behind at home, but it’s how you are going to represent yourself out to the world that matters the most.

The last shoot, the Not x Macdee giant puppet in Orange Farm was an emotional experience for me. I could see the pain in the kids eyes, waiting for hope and faith of steps further. The outfit made people laugh and excited. That feeling made me both happy and sad at the same time. I wish I had a million rand to help them all, create sport activities, art exhibitions, job creation, reading creation centers, to create a powerful journey of hope for them. I hope that the project will make people aware that life is about making a difference, and taking a dream to a beyond extraordinary expectation.



Where do you hope this project will take you? What would you like to do next?

It really opened up my eyes. Three layers of eyes. My heart desires for this project to be a continuously powerful, timeless work that even when my kids are born, they will still be like, ‘yo mom!’ I hope that it can raise up a bigger voice for Africans, and an attraction to Africa. It should be a continuous powerful journey, it shouldn’t end here.

On a future note, I would like there to be a powerful arts school for the kids.


NOT x Macdonald Mfolo reinterpretation of the NOT Banner Top as a Pantsula costume and  modeled by Manthe Ribane. Photo | Chris Saunders.

© Chris Saunders. NOT x Macdonald Mfolo Collaboration


The NOT x Chris Saunders project will be exhibited in New York from Sep. 10 – 17, 2014 at Wallplay. For more info on the project.




Manthe Ribane (b. 1988, Soweto, South Africa) is a performance artist. Working in film, music, dance and performance art, Ribane’s charismatic aura and talent has led the young artist to collaborations with some of South Africa’s leading and celebrated talent. These include Mafikizolo ,Toya Delezy, Spoek Mathambo, OKMALUMEKOOLKAT and Die Antewoord. As a creative catalyst, Manthe has been a key member in some of South Africa’s contemporary creative movements from the fashion meets conceptual art squadron, The Smarteez back in 2006, to the dance meets performance art group V.I.N.T.A.G.E cru. Her latest initiative, DEAR RIBANE, is a collaboration with Tegebo and Kay Kay Ribane, her siblings. Dear Ribane

Soweto South Africa | Doing our part to combat immappancy


Interview by Missla Libsekal in collaboration with Jenny Lai.


All images courtesy of Chris Saunders. All rights reserved.




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