The male in 'animal': Surprisingly tame
by Robyn Sassen
She sits, perched and naked, a thick mass of hair growing down her chest and into her pubis. Her chin, too, is not smooth and feminine, but prickly. A black dog sits between her thighs and she holds in one hand what seems to be a sharply bladed etching tool horribly close to her crotch. In the other hand she holds a disposable razor in the other. A shaved area along one breast exposes the white skin. It's vulnerable and bristly, almost wound-like.
This is the work of Diane Victor, the 'honorary woman' on 'Ani(male)', a curated exhibition currently on show at Artspace. The work is difficult to look at, but the dry humour in Close Shave, a magnificently executed drawing in charcoal on paper, is not lost. The woman sits in front of a burning landscape, confrontational and aggressive.
She sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition, explosively. Comprising real male artists, the exhibition is diverse in its tone and approach to the rather controversial thrust of the show, dubbed to counterargue the predominance of female art prizewinners in recent times. The real men, interestingly, collectively offer a sense of refined aesthetic, which in turn counterargues presuppositions about what male and female approaches to art (or life) necessarily might be. So while the approach might on a level be seen and playful, there is a deeper resonance, which opens up questions of identity, as articulated through artwork.
The show adequately fills the four rooms of this Fairlands-based gallery, modern and comfortable in its clean pristine layout, and homely in its suburban environment. But does it make the grade? Primarily the work of printmakers, the aesthetics of the show offer its most powerful recommendation: the male/female thing does feel a little forced at times. And the thrill of the show is the beauty and competence with which the works have been executed.
The artists selected are all prominent in different capacities. Some are bigger names than others, but none are unknown. It is also interesting that the works are rather demure as far as grappling with a sexuality or a sexual identity is concerned, and Victor's approach is by far the most aggressive and bloody. So much for sugar and spice and all things nice.
Ian Marley presents several panoramic landscapes, populated by mutations: little dogs with six dumpy legs and many nipples. They're evocative of Giulio Tambellini's earlier almost mythical works, but Marley deals with 'women chairs' and many people linked by their genitals in a long sequential etching. Sexuality is also rather voluptuously present in Frank Ledimo's several lithographs. Scratchy enough to feel like drypoints, they are evocative of the sexuality explored by Max Beckmann in his images of World War Two whores and social degenerates.
While André Naudé deals painterly with images of source, evocative of the female goddess mythology, John Moore plays into natural images, making them fit some of the discourses implied by this exhibition with a Yin/Yang pangolin, or a pile of animals, resplendent in their integrity to detail, but billed as Survival of the Fittest for instance. The maleness of the rhinoceros and elephant by Jonathan Comerford, is palpable, not only in the powerful lines embracing the forms, but in their posed aggression.
Dikgwele Paul Molete offers a series of large, velvet like linocuts, printed with precision. The loveliness of their handling is belied by their subject matter which confronts issues as morally problematic, but commonplace as child molestation by the Church, SDTs and the like.
Chris Diedericks has created a body of blind embossed works, with a hand-coloured portrait in their centre. This aligns his approach with a sense of embellishment, more endemic to the western ideology, that kept women out of the mainstream of thought, appearance or traffic in bygone centuries. His works are interestingly tactile and flawlessly rendered, looking from yet another angle at behaviour that might be preconceived or coloured by gender expectation or construction. By the same token, Willem Boshoff offers a textual take on the rash of issues revealed by the exhibition's project. His drypoints contain swirling lines of text mirrored toward an obscurity.
Ultimately, then, the exhibition competently embraces intelligent responses to the broad issues raised by the show's brief, without becoming evocative of textbook ideologies, but also without necessarily raising sexist ghoulies in the closets of these male artists. Some have clearly made work for this exhibition, others are working in their own explorations and allowing the work to fit the discursive expectations from here.
This is not an exhibition about exploding sexist myths; it's a celebration of an integrity to material and subject matter. In this ideological debate, the ideology is a bit of a casualty and the art wins out.
Opens: October 10
Closes: November 6