Siopis was born in 1953 in Vryburg, South Africa, and lives in Cape Town. She has an MFA and an Honorary Doctorate from Rhodes University, and is currently an Honorary Professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Her work since the early 1980s has encompassed painting, film/video, photography and installation. All of her explorations, whether with body politics, memory, migration, or the relations between the human and non-human, are characterised by her interest in what she calls the ‘poetics of vulnerability’ – embodied in the dynamic play between materiality and reference, chance and contingency, form and formlessness, personal and collective history.
Solo exhibitions include Moving Stories and Travelling Rhythms: Penny Siopis and the many journeys of Skokiaan, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo (2019); ‘This is a True Story’: Six Films (1997-2017), a survey of Siopis’ film works, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town (2018); Penny Siopis: Films, Erg Gallery, Brussels (2016); Incarnations, ICA Indian Ocean, Mauritius (2016); Time and Again: A Retrospective Exhibition, South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2014), and Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg (2015); Red: The iconography of colour in the work of Penny Siopis, KZNSA Gallery, Durban (2009), and Three Essays on Shame, Freud Museum, London (2005). Siopis has held eight solo exhibitions at Stevenson in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Amsterdam (2007-2020).
Notable group shows include Shifting Dialogues: Photography from The Walther Collection, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf (2022); Plural Possibilities and the Female Body, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington (2021); Witness: Afro Perspectives from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection, El Espacio 23, Miami (2020); Global(e) Resistance, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2020); Blinde Winkel / Blind Corner, Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz eV, Germany (2020); Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives, McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, USA (2020); I Am ... Contemporary Women Artists of Africa at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC, USA (2019); Hacer Noche (Crossing Night), Cultural Centre of Oaxaca, Mexico (2018); The World’s Game: Fútbol and Contemporary Art, Pérez Art Museum Miami (2018); The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, Prospect.4, New Orleans (2017); All Things Being Equal, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town (2017); South Africa: The art of a nation, British Museum, London (2016); Boundary Objects, Kunsthaus Dresden (2015); After Eden/Après Eden - The Walther Collection, La Maison Rouge, Paris (2015); Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2014); Prism: Drawing from 1990-2011, Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo (2012); Appropriated Landscapes, Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm/Burlafingen, Germany (2011); Peekaboo - Current South Africa, Tennis Palace Art Museum, Helsinki (2010); Black Womanhood: Images, Icons and Ideologies of the African Body, Hood Museum, New Hampshire; Davis Museum, Wellesley, Massachusetts, and San Diego Museum of Art, California (2008); and the biennales of Taipei (2016), Venice (1993, South African Pavilion 2013), Sydney (2010), Guangzhou (2008), Johannesburg (1995 and 1997), Gwangju (1997) and Havana (1994 and 1997).