AN EXHIBITION ON COLOURED IDENTITY
“Contrary to what Shakespeare’s Juliet famously opined —‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet’ — I believe that names and labels do matter, especially when it comes to the politics of identity and how we perceive (or, perhaps more tellingly, are made to perceive) ourselves. For me, the lesson we must learn here is to not let others define us. We must be free to assert our own humanity and free to choose to define ourselves as we see fit. And if that means being Coloured and proud, so be it. If that also means identifying as black, African or mixed race — whether only some of those labels or all at once — then so be it, too. In my opinion they do not need to be mutually exclusive, and one should be free to be proud of and to assert whichever aspects of one’s identity one chooses. – Lindsey Johnson, writer and broadcaster (1)
KWAAI, this year’s summer exhibition at Eclectica Galleries, seeks to explore the question of “colouredness”. The exhibition will not attempt to provide any answers, but aim to open a conversation around ideas of the coloured identity and the lived experiences of those who carry the moniker. It will attempt to shine a light on the continued hardships faced by coloured people as a consequence of Apartheid, with a view to contribute positively to the coloured community.
This exploration will cover such concepts as legacy, family, fragility, class and dispossession.
The artists displaying their work at this exhibition do not necessarily label themselves with the term, but they understand that their lived experience is affected by it. The exhibition theme is one the director of Eclectica, Shamiela Toyer, understands intimately. She has experienced both pre and post-apartheid prejudices directed at the coloured community in Cape Town.
This exhibition was created not just to start a fruitful exploration of the coloured identity, but also to educate other racial and cultural groups about “colouredness”. Coloured heritage can be heavy, as the coloured identity carries many negative and harmful stereotypes. In South Africa, the coloured person is typecast as uneducated, with no front teeth and a funny accent. Coloured Afrikaans vernacular is also widely used, but still somehow regarded as inferior.
Living while coloured can mean living in flux, i.e. living as an entity defined in relation to blackness and whiteness. Describing coloured identity as simply the intersection of white and black is much too simplified, and yet this binary is persistant. The artists contributing to the exhibition unpack this notion, and their work provides a number of other interesting perspectives around living under the coloured ambit.
Gary Frier describes his contribution as “a comment on colonist tradition in ‘old masters’, the dispossession of culture and land.”
Stephené Conradie creates sculptures using commonplace objects found in working class homes, with which she suggests “that they could provide an important insight to understanding identity formation, by studying what people attach value to and how they create meaning in the private spheres of their homes”.
Rory Emmett explains his reproduction of old family photographs as an interest “in the convergence of pigmentation and identity”, and the use of “Colouredness as a medium to make sense of systems of classification, as well as to deconstruct them. In facing these systems of classification, which for the most part still exist, I aim to reveal the absurdity of rigid schema and the difficulty of life under these circumstances.”
Joshua Williams combines family photos and layers of rust, charcoal and ink in his pieces. “Rust in my practice is a material that represents time, as well as fragility and structural weakness. The staining of rust can obscure objects. In this series, my interest is the relationship between rust and photographs and the ability to obscure the past. As much as photographs hold a certain amount of truth, they can also obscure truth”.
Hasan & Husein Essop’s work “highlights a multi-cultural clash between religion and popular cultures.”
Other artists taking part in the exhibition are Danielle Alexander, a Cape Town based artist and graduate of the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town; Scott Eric Williams, a social entrepreneur working in the Art Sector and Kirsten Arendse.
(1) Linsey Johns 10/08/2013 The Root Say it loud im coloured and proud
Having completed his BAFA at Michaelis School of Fine Art (UCT) in 2014, artist Rory Emmett has featured in many exhibitions throughout the nation. His work even forms part of the CCA (Centre for Curating the Archive) and a number of private collections. He majored in painting, and in his final year was awarded the Judy Steinberg Painting Prize. He was also the 2014 recipient of the Hoosein Mohamed Award and the Director and Staff Special Prize, in his final year.
For the exhibition KWAAI, Emmett will be showing a group of paintings which are extracts from a visual document called Coloured Photo Album (2017). In this document he’s made reference to images from his family’s photographic archive and painstakingly reproduced these black and white photographs in paint, save for the subjects’ skins, which are blurred out in a patchwork of colours derived from the hues of the South African national flag. Emmett aims to reveal to the viewer the joyful moments experienced by many ordinary South Africans in spite of the nightmare brought on by the Apartheid government. “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,” shares the artist. In this process, he becomes “Coloured” on his own terms, whilst constructively critiquing notions of the ‘Rainbow Nation’, exposing its fragility. He hopes these gestures slowly move viewers towards a deeper appreciation of complex legacies through the re-imagining of these moments.
For activist artist Gary Frier, creating art is a space of constant self-reflection of positionality within the world we live in. Inspiration from various forms of media have catapulted him to this discovery of distilling and interpreting his own interactions to his surroundings, resulting in a manifestation of this relationship through visual art. Frier has exhibited extensively: from the Design Indaba to the Artscape and throughout local galleries, making a difference as much as he can through exhibitions such as 2006 P O S I + I V E “HOPE” Art Exhibition from which proceeds from this watershed event donated to the Tapologo Aids Hospice, which is performing an invaluable service in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The concept behind this painting is part of Frier’s exploration through portraits, where he looks at consciousness and physical place – specifically nature. He attempts to bridge what he calls the brittle connection between us and the “wild”. Focusing on the replacement of physical and spiritual presence by the financial value system, the artist creates a dialogue between the subject and their environment. In this work he took a section of a Pierneef landscape painting and super imposed a Khoi woman into the landscape as a comment on colonist tradition in “old masters”, and the furthering dispossession of culture and land.
Bridging the intersections of fine art, fashion, and performance, interdisciplinary artist, Quaid Queezy Heneke creates immersive worlds; expanding what it means to be queer and coloured in South Africa, subverting constructions of masculinity, sexuality, and corporeality.
“Corporate Culture” inspired by their experience working at a corporate institution. One day, Heneke went to work dressed as their femme persona, Queezy. and was told that what they were wearing violated dress code and was asked to change. “I asked a colleague to take a picture of me, which created the figure for this work,” explains Heneke. Thus, their response to the repression of identity and self-expression is an army of Queezys, poised to reclaim space.
Their second work was inspired by story in Die Sun, a local newspaper read widely by coloured communities in Cape Town. The cover article read, “11 Gangsters Killed,” and showed the image of their dead bodies on the street. Heneke was struck by how normalised an image like this could become, as well as how this image revealed systemic problems trickling down from the apartheid era. Gangsterism, for instance, offered alternative economies, land and resource control where the government refused support. Rather than merely representing bloodshed, their work alludes to the collision between ancestral coloured people and who we are today. Past, present, and future collide, creating a space change is possible.
Scott Eric Williams
Scott Eric Williams is a self-taught artist from Cape Town. Williams uses diverse media, which range from sculpture with recycled materials and weaving to illustration and Wheatpaste street art. Having experienced a nomadic existence for most of his life Williams is moved to create deep empathetic work, with an intention to pro-actively contribute to a multifaceted image of African identity. Scott’s work reflects on urban migrations, and contemplates experiences of loss, depression, land, hope and trade within inner-city contexts. Through his use of urban detritus, he strives to make sense of the city by engaging with its leftovers. Scott’s work embeds a sense of site-specificity due to the nature of materials coming from particular stores and locations.
Being a founding member of the collective Burning Museum (2012-2015) Williams’ work is also strongly characterized by themes of the archive, remembrance and marginalized histories. Burning Museum have exhibited at The Centre for African Studies – UCT, Brundyn+ , Kunsthaus Dresden and on the streets of Cape Town. His work includes also Youth Facilitation at The District Six Museum, Research & Archiving at Africa South Art Initiative and web, print design at Thupelo, Cape Town.
Matthew Wareley grew up on the Cape Flats, and has been endlessly captivated by photography in all its essence for as long as he can remember. His first camera was a purple 35mm point and shoot camera that he got in a Steers kiddies meal when he was a kid. Ever since then he’s been photographing his surrounds on anything and everything he could get his hands on, disposable film cameras, 35mm film camera bought by his mom for primary school camps, 1.2MP phone cameras, borrowed digital point and shoot cameras etc. It was only in 2013 when Matthew realized photography was actually a serious passion for him, and decided that he’s tired of saying if only I had a proper camera for this when he saw something worth capturing. That’s when he got a loan from his mother for his first camera – with promises to pay it off. He taught himself the basics of photography and how to use his camera before he even bought it. He photographed for 2 years before being awarded a bursary to get his advanced certificate at Vega in 2015/16.
Inspired by his love for his home combined with his passion for photography, Matthew Wareley, photographs everyday people, spaces and objects, that are commonly overlooked. The Lotus River local has exhibited in multiple artist made exhibitions such as “NOW NOW”,” Kintsukoroi” and “Everything I Made.” In his raw style mixed with a slight hint of fine art attempts to pay homage to his ever changing home surrounds and further instil a sense of home and pride in the viewer, in a time where all things home and “common” are overlooked or seen as distasteful.
Danielle Alexander is a young Cape Town based artist and graduate of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. She majored in Painting and Visual and Art History which is notable in some of the art historical references and characteristics seen in her oil paintings. She specifically finds inspiration in Neoclassism and Baroque imagery. She uses images of linen found in her personal domestic spaces as her subject matter. Using the creases and folds of the drapery in place of body to communicate emotions of tension, passivity or drama. A metaphor to reveal and conceal broader concerns and questions around institutional critique within a Fine Arts context and its canons of established or recognisable symbolism – as well as more personal concerns, like vulnerability and agency with regards to her own personal identity and its complexity.
Alexander’s compositions always have a façade of composure but there is always an underlying current of tension, questioning and hopefulness. In addition to using oil paint, she often works with alternative media such as Crete stone, polyfilla and plaster to create textured paintings commenting on notions of the seen and unseen through the use of materials usually associated with hiding or fixing cracks or faults. Drawing on images of imagined landscapes and drapery her work further looks at ideas of memory being ingrained or attached to place but also acts as a way of trying to map out internal thoughts and notions of positionality.
Since 2015, Michaelis alumni Kirsten Arendse has been fascinated by the concept of “non-beauty” and the ways in which western beauty standards have dictated women. Much of her artistic practice has involved the use of hair and its connotations to societal beauty, as it is one of many physical aspects of the body that many feel like they have to try and control, condition and maintain.
As a young coloured woman, Arendse has struggled with the idea of control, constantly trying to manipulate her hair to what she had been taught to be “beautiful”, until finally allowing her hair to be as it was intended to be. In some aspects of her culture, curly hair is deemed or has been deemed as undesirable. She explains that if you had curly hair in this way you were therefore labelled a “kroeskop” or a “bossiekop”. These are two of many terms that have negatively governed the appearance of non-European individuals for many years in efforts to other, segregate and demean.
For this exhibition, Arendse has taken this same concept and grappled with it in relation to methods of conditioning and control in efforts to try and challenge or allude to the hidden systems many communities of colour are still dictated by. She uses hair dye and thread in conversation with acrylic paint mainly on perspex, to speak to ideas of manipulation and synthetic culture.
Joshua Williams was born in 1991 in Cape Town, South Africa where he continues to live and work. He completed a BA in Fine Arts (2013) at Michaelis school of Fine Art, University of Cape Town and recently completed his Masters of Fine Arts (2018) at the same institution.
Williams trained as a sculptor during studies, however his works are interdisciplinary, between sculpture and painting. Central to his practice and research is how space is defined through architecture and shifts over time due to the political, social and cultural implications on those who occupy and experience those spaces.
His refined focus in these works is capturing time and reproducing time through the materials of familial photographs and rust. Broken Record are images created by layers of rust, ink, charcoal and reproduced familial photographs. Layers of rust are broken down and built up by staining and removing. The reproduced photographs are moments of time captured in the form of gatherings, while the layers of built up rust symbolically capture time. Rust in William’s practice is a material that represents time, as well as fragility and structural weakness. The staining of rust can obscure objects. In this series his interest is the relationship between rust and photographs, and the ability to obscure the past. As much as photographs hold a certain amount of truth, they can also obscure truth.
Namibian born artist Stephané Conradie, is a lecturer in printmaking at Stellenbosch University South Africa. Although primarily a trained printmaker, she is well known for her bricolage assemblages. She is currently also a PhD candidate in Visual Arts at the University of Stellenbosch, where she completed her MA in Visual Arts (Art Education) (cum laude) and her BA in Visual Arts (Fine Arts) (cum laude).
The works presented in this exhibition are assemblage sculptures of found and thrifted objects such as decorative spoons, porcelain dogs, milk jugs and kitschy figurines. The works belongs to a larger body of work, Ordentlikheid: a creolised object, which focuses on objects found in lower middle and working class homes in South Africa. Though such objects are oftentimes written off as commonplace, Conradie suggests that they could provide an important insight to understanding identity formation. This body of work stems from Conradie’s fascination with how people categorise and arrange objects in their homes, particularly her own family members in both Namibia and South Africa. These objects have provided her with a language to investigate the creolised formations of identity that are linked to South Africa’s histories of colonialism, slavery, segregation and apartheid. Indeed, this material archive registers histories that extend beyond the colonial encounter. It was not merely the meeting of African slaves and white settlers that produced creolisation, but rather the transformation of cultures which were already transformed by various conquests, exchanges, languages and geographies. What then are the effects of a creolised Europe colonising southern Africa only to produce a new set of creolised groups of people who adopt an already creolised material culture? Conradie tries to explore this question. In other words, we do not entangle objects, but objects entangle us.
Local stylist and producer Mikhailia Petersen has been featured in multiple spaces and publications, such as Nataal Magazine and in Jody Brand’s exhibitions at Stevenson and Blank Projects. Petersen explains that she came from a place of privilege, “I went to a model C school and stayed in the suburbs” she elaborates. Her mother fell ill when she was 13 years old, and she was put into the foster care system, where she found herself often bullied because she was not “coloured enough” and did not fit the stereotype.
In these works, Petersen revisited her former school. She captured the church she’d attend every morning for prayer. “The last time I ever felt safe,” she states. Hidden in the shadows is the weight of the pain she has carried. The melancholic nostalgia housed in this darkness holds secrets that only her silence can bear. Contrastingly, Petersen also photographs the field she used to play soccer on, experiencing existing in a space of seeing things from past to present. The space in between leading to her personal growth and self awareness.
She comments how this work is part of her healing process, “it does not define who I am, it shapes me.”
Hasan and Husain Essop
Hasan and Husain Essop collaborating brothers and artist duo since their graduation from the University of Cape Town. Their work has appeared in several group shows, including Integration and Resistance in the Global Age at the Havana Biennale, ABSA L’Atelier in Johannesburg and Power Play at Goodman Gallery Cape, as well as various private and public collections, including the Durban Art Gallery and the South African National Gallery.
Their series of work highlights a multi-cultural clash between religion and popular cultures. The Essop brothers explore the dominating influence of Western theatrics and those narratives that are constructed to depict a certain reality. Environments are chosen as stages on which to perform and define our behaviors. Several characters may appear repeatedly. Our daily uniforms, brands reflecting class distinctions which become tools and opportunities for acting out multiple personae and adapting to specific surroundings. Those clothed in Islamic wear are aggressive but humble in their quest, those in popular fashion questioning their beliefs. The pit bull demonstrates loyalty but no sense of reason. Similarly, soldiers in war portray a patriotic commitment to their country, bred for a purpose.
Creating a moment in time, a dream or something seen, we tell a story of growing up. As twin brothers, Hasan and Husain have set out to find themselves in each other, the similarities become interesting and exciting. Trying to create something new each time, a story unfolds and never ends.
Dion Cupido was born in 1973 and prides himself on creating stunning artworks as a largely self-trained artist. His paintings work within a language that speaks both to classical portraiture and street art, blending symbols and mixing dialects to create emotive works that appeal to many. In 1998 he started exhibiting at the Pea-Nut Gallery. In 2003 he joined the Arts & Media Access Centre’s (AMAC) professional development program, where he won the Truworths AMAC Academy of the Visual Arts award.
In recent years, he has produced a consistent body of abstract work. Initially it consisted of urban escapes through the front window of his car and most recently he discovered African-Pop portraiture using industrial ink as painting medium. Dion discovered his ability to paint, by accident, when he helped a friend with a school project. Cupido has a studio space at Good Hope Art Studios in Cape Town, South Africa.