How many abortions have fallen out of your mouth while counting the men in your life?
Madness sits at the dinner table, too, saying grace with one eye open.
– Koleka Putuma, Collective Amnesia
On the 9th August 1956, 20 000 women – led by Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, Motlalepula Chabaku, Bertha Gwoxa and Albertina Sisulu – marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. They were protesting pass laws the apartheid government put in place requiring women to carry passbooks on them at all times.
Sixty-one years later, and although the apartheid regime is no longer in place, women still face remarkable injustices on a daily basis. South Africa has the highest count of rape statistics in the world, and holds an extraordinary capacity for gendered violence.
However, amidst all the prejudices women still face, there has been an emergence of female artists protesting and subverting the crippling effects of masculinity and the male gaze. Their work focuses on issues of femininity, beauty, body, race, gender, subservience, and power – at once demonstrating the remarkable ability of the female, and empowering women across the globe.
In light of Women’s Day, ART AFRICA celebrates femininity and womanhood by casting a spotlight on a few of our favourite wonderful women in the African art scene.
Lady Skollie. Kind of, sort of united we stand. the ups and downs of competitive sisterhood. 2016. crayon, ink, collage and 24ct gold leaf on Fabriano. 151 x 152 cm. Copyright of the artist. Image courtesy of Tyburn Gallery.
Lady Skollie’s recent solo show, Lust Politics, defied taboos around femininity and spoke openly about issues of sex, pleasure, consent, human connection and abuse. Her work – large-scale ink, watercolour and crayon paintings – presents a humorous yet sincere take on the issues women and femme bodies deal with daily, simultaneously reclaiming femininity in a positive and powerful light.
In likeness to Lady Skollie’s work is that of South African poet, Koleka Putuma. Putuma’s debut collection of poems, Collective Amnesia, is a fearless exploration of blackness and womanhood. Her words hum, writhe and rise out of the pages, demanding justice, insisting on visibility and offering an emotional space for healing.
Joana Choumali – an ART AFRICA ‘Bright Young Thing’ – explores the contradictions in contemporary perceptions of femininity, beauty and body image. She documents the manufacturers of female mannequins in Cote d’Ivoire, illustrating the difference between western and African mannequins, and questioning how women model both their bodies and beauty ideals after these “soulless” mannequins.
Born from the phrase Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!) comes the more frequently used ‘strike a woman, you strike a rock’. Undeniably, this phrase encompasses the compassion, strength, virility, courage and beauty of female artists challenging the incapacitating effects of the male gaze, at once empowering women locally, nationally, across the African continent, and globally.
Happy Women’s Day! Here’s to continuing the fight for gender equality, one female artist at a time.