Hats off to men’s exhibition We have a crisis but we have missed the point of the hashtag
Positive aspects of masculinity hailed to fight violence, writes Gillian McAinsh
A young artist from King William’s Town is pushing back against the #MenAreTrash hashtag in an all-male exhibition condemning violence towards women and children.
Thandolwethu Mtshatsha opened the exhibition, Isankwane, at the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism at artEC art gallery in Central, Port Elizabeth and it will run until December 14.
The title refers to the woollen hat, called isankwane , traditionally worn by older African men.
“It isn’t worn by any man, it is worn by someone who deserves to be called a man, who shows good leadership, a real man who knows the way to solve problems is by talking and not by beating women or children,” Mtshatsha said.
Hence most of the work on show in the small exhibition upstairs at artEc are by township men who want to present positive aspects of Xhosa masculinity.
“The #MenAreTrash hashtag is embedded with deep pain, fear and disgust because it seems as though we are constantly waiting for something to happen to our loved ones,” Mtshatsha says.
“There is no empathy in this world, we no longer seem to care. It pains because we are not implementing the humanity we preach day in, day out.
“We have mothers, sisters and daughters but we still overlook all the social ills that are harmful to them and get offended by a hashtag that is raising quite critical issues.”
As someone who sees how women often are badly treated in SA, he understands why the hashtag #MenAreTrash has taken such a grip.
“We have a crisis but we have missed the point of the hashtag – this has got nothing to do with us being cheaters because, in all honesty, women cheat too.
“We have to look deeper into the roots of the problem and why we continue disregarding what we are doing wrong instead of changing our ways.
“Honestly, we do not have to be abusers or rapists to be trash. The mere fact that we condone certain utterances and acts among our friends make us trash. That is where the trash we are starts, by not showing one another [as men] the way.”
In addition to the formal work, visitors also have a chance to put their stamp on the exhibition by adding their comments or images on Mtshatsha’s mixed-media work Indoda (Man) Share Your View. He encourages visitors to write words or sketch on the blank canvas around this self-portait.
Mtshatsha chose to focus on men rather than women as he feels they are the gender which needs to adapt.
“We need to change and not just talk, we need to walk the talk and show the world that not all men are trash by actions,” he said.
“There are plenty of good men that can teach and show the ‘trashy men’ how a real man behaves.”
Artists Banele Njadayi, Buntu Fihla, Siyabonga Ngaki, Bamanye Ngxale, Mthetheleli Williams, Ludwe Mdolombane, Msindisi Nyendwana and Sakumzi Nyendwana join Mtshathsa in showing just that.
His favourite image on the exhibition is a charcoal portrait of an older man accompanied by words like power, wisdom, strength and love by Njadayi called Uphawu Lombzabalazo – A Sign of Struggle.
“I love the facial expression and the hat and the words, you can see that he has been through so much and yet he is still wearing the isankwane . It represents the whole exhibition.”
Oomahlalela is another Nja- dayi work, with the word “oomahlelela” referring to the unemployed men who sit around on township streets with apparently nothing to do.
Yet, says Mtshatsha, this group has an important role.
“They sit around but they also guide the community and they are the first people to react and to help if something is happening. Some people do not even know there are people like that in townships.”
Mtshatsha knows better, and these are the men whose faces he would like to show to the world.
● artEC gallery hours are 9am to 4pm on weekdays. Inquiries: 041-585-3641.
HOW TO BE A MAN: Exhibition curator Thandolwethu Mtshatsha is asking gallery visitors to add to his artwork ‘Indoda (Man) Share Your View’