With Reference to particular examples, critically reflect on art making in post-colonial conditions. To what extent are postcolonial, anti-colonial or de-colonial theories and practices pertinent to, or reconfigured, in the present day?

In many way’s this question is too big to answer within the limitations of this essay. However, I am going to apply it to postcolonial/post-apartheid South Africa, and its specific systems of segregation. Art doesn’t exist in isolation from the artist, the artist cannot be discussed in isolation from the time in which they live or have lived. Art making in South Africa, cannot exist in isolation from the political history of colonialism. I will be exploring de-colonial and anti-colonial theories in contemporary art practices, within the three terms ‘White’ ‘Black’ and ‘Coloured’ South African and the different etymologies that are applied to these divisions. I will focus on three artists and how they antagonise those particular identifiers. I would say that ‘anti-colonial’, ‘de-colonial’ and ‘postcolonial’ hold different meanings in a British context compared to the South African context. These issues are impacting and being dealt with in everyday life in South Africa, more so than in Britain. I will explore the contemporary persistence of colonial dynamics, power distribution between communities and delayed artistic progression, and what that means for the art world.

I will be using the pejorative term ’Coloured’. Coloured means two different things in different contexts. Here in the UK and in the USA, ‘Coloured’ is a derogatory nomenclature for anyone ‘non-White’. Its historically used (particularly in the Jim Crow era) and gradually became restricted to ‘Negroes’. After the Civil Rights Movement, both terms gave way to ‘Black’ and ‘African American’ (in the USA). The difference between the nomenclature ‘mixed raced’ and ‘coloured’ is: ‘Mixed race’ in South Africa, refers to someone who has a parent who is ‘White South African’ and a parent who is ‘Black South Africa’. In the South African context, the nomenclature ‘Coloured’ belongs to a population of people with their own history, culture, and cuisine. Social politically, it would be offensive should I refer to someone ‘Coloured’ as ‘Mixed Raced’ as that would be dismissive of their cultural background. Coloured people go back generations from when the first Western European men and Khoisan woman had interracial sexual intercourse. When researching about these two terms, during my time in Johannesburg, I was told, the etymology of the nomenclature ‘Mixed Raced’ suggests you’re not a whole. It’s an animalistic description, parallel to ‘Mixed breed’, a term suitable for a dog. This negative stigma around ‘Mixed race’, encourages racist ideas and contributes to the hierarchy through racial terminology. I personally identify with the South African vernacular of ‘Coloured’ that actually, I am whole, even though I would fall under ‘Mixed raced’ in South Africa.

Trauma is a mental reflex following a disturbing experience. Trauma is carried by every human, in different manners. Racial Trauma manifests in every racial category. Specifically, in South Africa, I believe the disturbing enslavement and theft from native ancestors by the colonisers, is remembered somatically by all South Africans, including more contemporary traumatic oppression and segregation like the ‘Apartheid’ laws that were put in place in 1949 until 1990 and current day oppressive social constructs.

As cultural theorist Hortense Spillers so eloquently said: the annihilation of family structure, the mutilation, and the serving of the body from will, are real traumas at the root of the black experience in The New World.[1]

I believe it’s possible that, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be inherited, to different extents, from our ancestors.

 

 

Contemporary black South African artist, Sethembile Msezane’s work explores the lack of representation of black woman and invisibility in the patriarchal, post-colonial society of Cape Town, South Africa. She demonstrates to us, how this can be combatted. Through Performance Art, she is able to engage with the trauma of the representations of national identity in public spaces through predominantly white male statues. Msezane performed at the fall of the British colonizer Cecil Rhodes’s statue in Cape Town, 9 April 2015. She was performing the rising of the wings of the Soapstone bird stolen from Great Zimbabwe by the British colonists, as the Cecil Rhodes statue fell. The elegant soapstone bird stood majestically with wings, made of hair extensions, spread wide as if flaunting its beauty. An audience gazing in awe at the symbol of under-represented black South African woman in history. Msezane explores the public space, the symbols that are present in them and the histories that are celebrated on them. The streets of Cape Town are teaming with white masculine architecture, monuments, and statues. This echoes social gender and racial divide and continues to affect the way that woman, in particular, black women, see themselves in relation to dominant male figures in public spaces. The preservation of history and act of remembering can be achieved in more memorable and effective ways. Over the space of a year, using performance, Msezane highlighted issue around the absence of the black female body in public spaces and in particular, memorialised spaces.

You see if young people don’t have positive images of themselves and all that remains are negative stereotypes, this affects their self-image, but it also affects the way that society treats them.[2]

 

With a slingshot, the further back you pull on the pouch, the stronger the projectile reflex will be. The further a person is oppressed, the stronger that person becomes, the stronger they project and the faster they progress. This is my description of the rapid progression of South African art making as a result of trauma, post-Apartheid SA and post colonialization. The medium of art being produced is hugely significant. Mediums of art practice like Performance and spoken word are at the forefront of contemporary art in South Africa today. I believe the expression of PTSD in particularly black South African artist naturally leans toward verbal and physical expression because of the mental and physical oppression of the body of the post-colonies. Coco Fusco also believes that “The political history of colonialism has shaped a very specific relationship between the mind and body for colonized and enslaved peoples and their descendants”[3]. I believe, for the descendants of the enslaved people, the same trauma is carried somatically, resulting in a burst of performance art and spoken word (but not exclusively). Economically, Black South African’s are hugely disadvantaged still, despite the ANC’s promises to redistribute the land significantly in 1994. White South Africans consist of about 8% of the population as of 2017, Black South Africans are around 80% or the population, with Colored, Asian and other ethnicities taking up the rest of the population. Yet, White South Africans, still own around 73.3% of the agricultural land with black South Africans only owning around 26.7% as of 2017.[4] Economically, because these performance and spoken word need little material resources, this is a convenient outlet.

Bret Bailey is the white South African theatre director and artist behind Exhibit B; a traveling performance installation where silent black actors and actresses recreate the scenes from the period of colonial enslavement in a tableau vivant type structure. Bailey is interested in how colonialism is sold still today as it was 100 years ago, as a benevolent undertaking. The show has been in many countries including SA in 2012, where it was generally well received and London, where it was shut down. The London Guardian called the piece ‘The Human Zoo’[5]  because of horrific scenes of slaves chained and behind bars to be watched by audiences.                                 

This article encouraged Sara Myers to start a petition to Jo Daly Executive Assistant to Sir Nicholas Kenyon (Barbican) Sir Nicholas Kenyon in London, to shut down the show, which it successfully did. Myers explained that:

If Brett Bailey is trying to make a point about slavery this is not the way to do it. The irony gets lost and it’s not long before the people behind the cage begin to feel like animals trapped in a zoo.[6]

My opinion is, because of the racial grouping he comes under and because there is such a small platform for black South Africans to have their say about issues around blackness, it’s unfair that he gets to tell the story for them. Is he unconsciously supporting oppressive patriarchal and colonialist ways within the art world? Or is he helping by continuing to highlight the horrors of colonialism in order to broaden the platform for black South Africans to have their say? I believe he still experiences the trauma of colonisation being South African, although it’s a different trauma, it’s still trauma. Is it dehumanizing Bailey to restrict him from expressing these issues because of the colour of his skin, is this not oppressive in itself?

Lady Skollie (aka Laura Windvogel), is a South African artist and activist born in 1987 in Capetown. Skollie’s work centers around gender roles and sexuality in contemporary post-apartheid South African Society. The term ‘Skollie’ originates in SA and means a Hooligan who falls under her racial label, ‘Coloured’. “It’s a political thing to be a woman in South Africa, regardless of race, gender or background”[7] . Skollie’s show in London called ‘Lust Politics’ at the Tyburn Gallery[8] displayed many of her paintings with the motif of fruit as either a phallic or vaginal symbol running throughout the work.  

This mural from the exhibition depicts a partially naked woman with 5 powerful long arms,

that contrast with two spread apart legs in a somewhat sexually submissive pose, a striking yellow afro and a skirt of bananas.  Ancestral spirits dance around the mind, brush strokes over the skin give the impression of their stories moving around the body of the protagonist. The banana motif is used throughout the exhibition, along with papayas and apples, all which represent either a phallic or vaginal symbol.

 

She tells us:

Sometimes reluctantly I reflect upon all the times I allowed my pussy to be colonised…it’s a funny thing to be a coloured woman in South Africa. You often date a lot of white men. You think you have power but in the end, you realise that your agency might not be as expansive as you thought it was. Say no to pink dick![9]

Skollie is practicing decolonisation through sexuality. As a mixed raced woman in the UK, my experiences have been similar, dating white men because of the idea that it would give me more agency, which turned out to be not so true. This is an example of persistent colonial dynamics.

De-colonial, anticolonial and postcolonial theories and practises are pertinent in South Africa, and in other postcolonial society’s I have not touched on. I look forward to learning and writing more about the impact colonisation has had in Algeria, Tunisia, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Within the restrictions of the word count I have explored different traumas from colonisation that are evident in art practise specifically in South Africa. The repercussions of colonisation are infinite. We cannot talk about the present or future of a society without recognising the past. Colonial dynamics are persistent, and as long as they are, de-colonial and anticolonial practises will also persist. Post-colonial society is never free from colonisation but picks up where the oppressive colonisers left off, gathering up traditional values and culture and striving for transformation to a more equal society. I am aware of my westernised lens and I want to be more conscious as to how this makes a difference to my opinions on colonisation. I am also aware that because of the nature of formal essay writing, my approach to the issues of trauma and PTSD, may come across insensitive. I hope not to offend anyone and welcome further discussion on the subject.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference List:

https://www.historyonthenet.com/black-peoples-of-america-segregation-the-jim-crow-laws/

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56fd7e0bf699bb7d0d3ff82d/t/593ab87cbebafb8c51a9c973/1497020540877/racialtraumaisrealManuscript.pdf

https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/who-owns-sas-land-20171028

https://www.change.org/p/withdraw-the-racist-exhibition-exhibition-b-the-human-zoo

http://nataal.com/lady-skollie/

[1] Fusco, C. (2001). The Bodies That Were Not Ours. Britain: Routledge, pp.14-15.

[2] Deskgram. (2018). Post By TED Talks(@ted) - Deskgram.com. [online] Available at: https://deskgram.org/p/1614023813640810782_374099

[3] Fusco, C. (2001). The Bodies That Were Not Ours. Britain: Routledge, pp.14-15.

[4] News24. (2018). Who owns SA’s land?. [online] Available at: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/who-owns-sas-land-20171028

 

[5] Mahony, J. (2018). Edinburgh’s most controversial show: Exhibit B, a human zoo. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/aug/11/-sp-exhibit-b-human-zoo-edinburgh-festivals-most-controversia

[6] Change.org. (2018). Sign the Petition. [online] Available at: https://www.change.org/p/withdraw-the-racist-exhibition-exhibition-b-the-human-zoo

 

[7] nataal.com. (2018). LADy SkOLliE. [online] Available at: http://nataal.com/lady-skollie/

[8] nataal.com. (2018). LADy SkOLliE. [online] Available at: http://nataal.com/lady-skollie/

[9] nataal.com. (2018). LADy SkOLliE. [online] Available at: http://nataal.com/lady-skollie/

ZETHU 'ZIZWE RUBY' MASEKO