Eclectica Contemporary, Cape Town
The ‘KWAAI’ group exhibition aims to start an important conversation surrounding coloured identity and politics, and it’s every intersection within the arts. Hosting an impressive list of creators that were gathered by curator Christina Fortune, the show quickly took shape as a platform upon which ‘colouredness’ could be seen, heard and understood. ‘KWAAI’ also tasked itself with celebrating colouredness, illuminating the history and legacy of coloured people, and to also have a positive impact on the community.
The legacy as it stands, is riddled with presumptuous sweeps of ignorance and stereotyping, as well as gentrification, violence and poverty. The history of the city of Cape Town itself doesn’t lean toward any kindness when it comes to helping us coloured folk assert ourselves in our past, let alone our present. The disadvantages are as evident as ever, and politically we can wrap the reality in whichever ribbon we choose, but the state of limbo us coloured people have been neglected to, leaves us scrambling for far more than our sense of self. That being said, art was sure to follow in times like these, and ‘KWAAI’ does a good job of creating a space within which all of these conversations can converge. Bringing so many artists into one space presents a kaleidoscopic opportunity to the audience, drawing upon the talents of coloured folk as they pursue themselves, their lives, and the surfacing expressions thereof.
In particular, Stephané Conradie took the belongings of working class homes and assembled them as part of a larger series Ordentlikheid: a creolised object, which aimed to immortalise what we accumulated in seeking our own identities within the memoirs of Apartheid, and perhaps why. She is well known for her bricolage assemblages and used works such as Aspirations and Mimesis to delve deeper into the material culture and effects of regular displacement of the coloured communities and it’s resulting cultural impressions. Her work held my eye for long moments at a time, as it conjured up memories and feelings in a sudden rush as I’d recognise this and that, making me feel connected and grateful, regardless of what the memories meant to me. For coloured people, considering the erasure, the dissonance and the ongoing gentrification, possessions move freely between a matter of the sentimental and that of survival, so what we keep surely reflects this, and that deserves to be noted as beautifully as Conradie has done.
On a different end of the spectrum that is the multifaceted coloured identity, Kirsten Arendse’s work embodies a dialogue surrounding hair; a complex and arduous discussion with Brasse innie Salon and Rafel Uit. Her acrylic duo, Competing Narratives surmises the struggle many coloured women have experienced with their hair. A conversation so riddled with the perpetuated whiteness of the coloured community, as it faces off with the blackness of our origins. It is through works such as these, that the conversation then turns inward, allowing for reflection within a coloured audience, while other viewers are welcomed to the ramifications of colourism, self-oppression and other nuances so normalised in Cape Town, and in our ‘culture’.
Speaking directly to our past and the space we occupy in South Africa, Rory Emmett’s Coloured Photo Album series of 2017 addresses the disingenuous reality of the ‘rainbow nation’. He uses the colours of the flag to replace the faces and skin of family members in his paintings which he based off of his own archives, commenting on the history of Apartheid and the effects it had on how coloured people were seen and how they saw themselves. “I’m interested in the convergence of pigmentation and identity, and use Colouredness as a medium to make sense of systems of classification, as well as to deconstruct them,” he says to Eclectic Contemporary. Works such as Mama and Wedding Cake show that his art also expresses a sense of foreboding; a loss of self in the pursuit of an ideal, as well as how these narratives would permeate a coloured life on any given day. This speaks to the endlessness of the conversation that KWAAI seeks to embolden; it can be tiring to be stripped of yourself and asked who you are, time and time again throughout history, constantly teaching the world about yourself. That tiredness is evident in a few pieces; the awareness of the redundancy felt now, and the repetition still to come. It also sharpens the notion that as exhausting as it is, coloured people continue to persevere, determined to discover themselves and stake a claim on what they find.
‘KWAAI’ granted these artists and the audiences an opportunity to dive into the universe of colouredness, inviting one and all to see into the lives of one of the most unique cultures in the world, and to hopefully encourage the city to see colouredness in a perspective less reliant on stigma, and more on it’s truth.