Lwandile Fikeni looks at the artists lib­er­at­ing us from our con­ser­va­tive and toxic mas­culin­i­ties

CityPress - - Voices -

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.


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