99 Loop Gallery
15.05 - 26.06.2021
The first time I saw one of Fanie Buys’s paintings, some years ago now, it was a commission hung in a friend’s living room against an emerald wall that played beautifully with the staccato brushstrokes and their colourings. I was instantly fascinated, more so when I realised that he was a creative who I was likely to resonate with more than the school of those who inhabited the art world as if suspended in some faraway mirage of elitism, contented with its isolation. Buys, a nineties-baby like myself, embeds into his works lashings of his character that skip over the allure of an artist’s ‘mystique’ in favour of an articulation and subsequent world-building that’s melded itself with his reality in a way that personifies his output with a signature candour and humour, often punctuated by his effulgent social media presence.
‘Miss’, Buys’s recent offering at 99 Loop Gallery turns this idiosyncratic worldview towards his self-proclaimed obsession with the Miss South Africa pageant. This body of work channels three recurring themes that frequent his canvases: femininity, royalty, and fame. Also embodied by the legacy of his muse, Princess Diana, these themes converge into his archival homage of each winner of the pageant since his birth in 1990. The triumvirate are markers of what distinguishes and thus isolates the ‘female’ form from one winner to the next, but here they are also meaningful components that make up the foundations of his youth. Along with millions of viewers across the nation, Buys recalls moments of his childhood buoyed by the pageant’s tradition and explores whatever was impressed upon him in his formative years.
Throughout the commentary on these thirty works, Buys frequently returns to the idea of audience. Not only because this was where he positioned himself, but also because of the audience’s role in the proceedings of the pageant. This has been the crux of debate surrounding the validity of the tradition in more recent years, since the definitions of perfection (whatever they may be) have successfully been conflated with attraction (whatever that is).
‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is an age-old adage that hides our behaviour in plain sight. Beauty is assigned; designated on whim after whim, filtering through the various jagged edges and slipways of society and affecting everyone in indescribable ways. To be an audience to something supposedly validated by that same presence creates an unstable symbiosis that is more codependent than it is definitive, even. It hangs like a spell of starshine following a chorus of flashing cameras – dizzying and dangerous. Beyond the monarchical symbolism and fatphobia (to name but a few) glitters a banner and omen that reads: this is womanhood…for now. Of course, with the audience having played their part in the decision-making, so must they now dedicate themselves to assimilating. Seeking. Becoming. Wanting. Being.
The idea of the audience in a pageant – those who vote, contribute and actively engage with revolving ideas of beauty – syncopates quite seamlessly with the phenomenon of social media in revealing society’s relation to its own ideas and expectations. The sheer power of optics continues to recalibrate our social language and will carry on doing so as our ideas adapt to their environment along with us.
Instead of placing his works as spokesperson or representative of this conundrum, Buys’s artistry enjoys the whim of one’s agency to paint whatever it is that you desire; the nostalgia of his spectatorship and its placement in the ambit of his own life. In full acknowledgement of the problematics which pervade pageantry, his work reminds us that the value of the personal is not defined exclusively by ennui or life’s despair, making room for the dividends of survival that sharpen us with the quickness that begets humour.
Our experiences inform our present, and as Buys wrote online in his caption below Cindy, 2002, “I was about 9 in 2002, and it was that sort of age where one begins to contextualise words and images…Isidingo, the F1, Pasella – no longer celestial events, but rooted in reality. Cindy Nel is special to me because (with the help of Melinda Shaw’s indomitable publications) I could sort of use her as an evening star to trace my trajectory in George, South Africa, the world.” Buys’s hindsight does more than recount a child’s draw to pageantry; there is a remarkable, tumultuous bond between what we want and who we are, and what we make of the relationship between the two, and what it makes of us. Holding it all as history evades the reality of its present power, but adds a marvelous shine to the infamous tiara.