IN A TIME OF HATE
Lwandile Fikeni looks at the artists liberating us from our conservative and toxic masculinities
Gallery: Stevenson Johannesburg Runs until June 3
Isuppose it was inevitable that an art exhibition about sex would address power and violence in what writer and editor Milisuthando Bongela poignantly termed “contemporary racist, rapey, rainbow South Africa”. And so it was the case with SEX, a group show at Stevenson.
It is true: we, South Africans, are frighteningly conservative – I think the word is “provincial”. We approach sex and sexuality with trembling, turgid backwardness, so soaked in fear, self-loathing and shame, it would make the architects of apartheid really proud.
It is in this realm that one begins to discern a coherent national identity. An identity which finds relief in acts of depraved violence and murderous bigotry. By now, you’d have picked up that I’m talking about the South African republican masculinity in its evident casual hate for women and any identity that’s remotely feminine, “othered” or LGBTIQ. We’re like bloodhounds cloaked in shame and a lust for power, which, unfortunately, is locked within historic patterns of privilege and so, to assuage our very real economic insecurity, which we’ve mixed up with “manhood”, we’ve convinced ourselves that to murder lesbians is to correct our own sense of shame.
For the show, Zanele Muholi has submitted a video in which a lesbian couple is locked in the act of sex. “This moment of unhinged ecstasy speaks of a kind of sexual liberation that, on paper, South Africa has honed, but in reality is met by brutal homophobic hate crimes and gender violence,” reads the exhibition statement.
SEX contrasts the freedom in these moments of pleasure with the murderous gaze of bigotry that could visit one at any moment, making the freedom itself a kind of illusion. While SEX is earnest in its intentions and moving is its content, it somehow lacks complexity, with some of the pieces coming off as too garish and lacking all nuance, more protest than art. Yes, this is a show about sex, but sex can also be a beautifully intricate act. Even so, this doesn’t take away from SEX’s significance.