This student review comes from a critical art writing workshop facilitated by Nkule Mabaso at KZNSA Gallery, Durban in January 2019.
KZNSA Gallery, Durban
17.01 – 10.02.2019
A peach-skin-blonde-hair-blue-eyed woman squats in her heels to give a gardener an enamel cup filled with wine from the green bottle in her left hand. She wears a flirtatious – and devious – expression. Immediately we feel she cannot be trusted. Her crotch is exposed and bosom is swelling. She is confident and shamelessly exposed in all her privileged glory. Contrasted to her is a faceless black man, his bare feet are grey and his clothing is stained by soil and sweat, indicative of a day of rigorous labour under a harsh Southern African sun.
Great Temptation in The Garden by Trevor Makhoba is one of the several artworks part of a curatorial essay at The KZNSA Gallery titled ‘Mating Birds Vol. 2’. The essay explores South Africa’s multifaceted and intertwining history of race, gender and sexuality specifically in relation to the Immorality Acts of the parliament of colonial and apartheid South Africa (Act No.5 of 1927, Act No. 23 of 1957, Act No. 57 of 1969). Using academic texts, news reports and artwork, the body of work that is presented to us to engage with is important for those who visit the Durban based gallery.
A few years back was my first encounter with Makhoba’s piece. It was during a time of my own learning of what whiteness is. This was also the time of the start of an inter-racial relationship with my current partner. Makhoba’s oil on canvas was to reflect my own fears, white guilt and my position in a post-colonial South Africa. Questions of power, privilege and of course racism are packed into one frame.
Now, re-introduced to this piece alongside several more, those points have begun to resurface. This time around, there are more materials and art pieces that grapple with notions of identity that might still perturb, anger, confuse or enlighten, excite and teach those who encounter them.
Tracey Rose’s iconic photographs, The Kiss and Lovemefuckme, are masterpieces in their physical form. The composition and quality is only one part of what makes them stand out as good photographs. Her subject matter in both photographs present evocative ideas of what love and intimacy can be.The subtext is that The Kiss reflects a wondrous love between individuals who happen to be different races, a parody of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of the same name.
25 years after breaking away from an apartheid governance and its laws, it does not feel like things are as simple as The Kiss. Springbok rugby captain, Siya Kolisi and his wife, Rachel Kolisi, are public examples of disrupting the status quo. Although the history of rugby is riddled with toxic masculinity and race issues of its own, the point to highlight with this inter-racial couple is that today their union upsets people. The pair experienced online racism after getting married. Comments by enraged white men, such as “what a waste of good white genes,” and “every white woman that marries a black man ends up with a case number,” reveals the intrinsic racism persisting today.
These are the kinds of points we come to face when viewing work in ‘Mating Birds Vol. 2’. We look back at work made in the past but it is hard to not see the likeness in what exists today.
By having work by Makhoba, Rose, Sabelo Mlangeni and the like, the opportunity to see someone like ourselves, in a good or bad light, might allow for self-reflection and interrogation. Much like when I was confronted to deal with my whiteness after seeing Great Temptation in The Garden, the opportunity to learn more about ourselves or the context in which we live in, is what is most valuable about this essay.
The occupation of the gallery space and invitation to artists of colour to show their works in a historically white space, suburb and city marks as important. The work and articles confront notions we may have of ourselves and others. They are a microcosm of the contemporary and historical issues people living in South Africa have faced, and still do. To see ‘Mating Birds’ is to see ourselves.