6.11.10

Peekaboo! - Artists and Injustice

Within two weeks I have been to two art exhibitions, one in Lusaka of local artists and print makers and one in Helsinki featuring South African art. While I understand that artists have different focii and diverse inspiration, the contrast that struck me was how the Lusaka showing – set in one of the poorest countries in the world with entrenched gender inequality and growing economic inequality, raging homophobia, had negligible reference to these issues and how “the best of” Zambian art offered trifling opposition to the condition of our country and culture.   


With emphasis on the female artists, in the Lusaka show, of the two women featured one specialised in animal images and the other - Agnes Buya, a highly respected and talented artist, made vague representations of ordinary objects and activities. Looking back her work that I have been privileged to see, there are gentle stabs at representing female inequality. “There are times when there is too much work to be done as a housewife, a mother and a teacher. And all I hope for is a break from this...” words by her attached to a picture entitled A wish for total freedom. To me this characterises the women’s movement in Zambia today - “All I hope for is a break from this,” we do not want a change of the system and true emancipation – we just want a break from this.

The Helsinki exhibition "Peekaboo" of course probably had certain themes in mind and a much larger pool of artists from which to choose and of the female artists on show, I will focus on the indigenous South African women simply because the indigenous women of Zambia and South Africa share many cultural and economic similarities and barriers to equality.

Zanele Muholi’s art made blatant statements about injustice. Her pictures were samples of two themes; the lives of black lesbians in South Africa and highly racialised institution of the female domestic worker.  Nontsikelelo Veleko’s portraits of Johannesburg street fashion celebrated individuality in a society in which this quality is an antithesis of the cultural values of communalism. The third artist Nandipha Mntambo has this to say of her (sometimes disturbing) depictions of women covered in cow hide “The work I create seeks to challenge and subvert preconceptions regarding representation of the female body.”

In these women’s work I saw anger and dissent. In their pictures the women used their talents to highlight what they see happening in their societies.

Of course one could argue that the South African artists have more training and resources. This may be true, but in the art I see in Zambia, I feel as though art is not considered a viable avenue of resistance; it is passive in a country that needs people to act. Perhaps we are mired in making ends meet, or, like government officials, believe that equality and social justice are topics for development workers. Within two weeks I have been to two art exhibitions, one in Lusaka of local artists and print makers and one in Helsinki featuring South African art. While I understand that artists have different focii and diverse inspiration, the contrast that struck me was how the Lusaka showing – set in one of the poorest countries in the world with entrenched gender inequality and growing economic inequality, raging homophobia, had negligible reference to these issues and how “the best of” Zambian art offered trifling opposition to the condition of our country and culture.   


No comments: