Our latest contributor, arts and culture creator and curator Russel Hlongwane, muses on the KZNSA’s most recent exhibition that, appropriately during the month of love, drew attention to the divides placed on romantic love by our apartheid past.
Durban has, in the more recent years, become rather lacklustre in its artistic offering. It has taken third place to Johannesburg and Cape Town, despite the fact that Durban, and KwaZulu-Natal as a whole, produces so much talent that is ultimately lost to the two big cities.
There has, however, been a change in tide.
There is strong evidence of a young generation of artists who are steadily reinvigorating the sector, albeit in modest ways.
There is also a growing curiosity amongst what could be called the Durban diaspora, these being artists who outgrew Durban, and situated themselves within more international networks of artistic practice.
One such recent exhibition and collaboration brought together an established and internationally renowned curator and artist, Gabi Ngcobo, who has her roots in Durban, with two emerging voices from the city, Sumayya Menezes and Zinhle Khumalo, under the title ‘Mating Birds Vol.2.’
This elaborate and reflective curatorial essay placed the spotlight on the problematic ways that the colonial and apartheid system regulated and mediated the dimension of love along racial lines.
Mating Birds Vol.2 used the great, late Lewis Nkosi’s novel Mating Birds as a point of departure, and as a basis to visualize the troublesome histories associated with the Immorality Acts of the parliament of colonial and apartheid South Africa (Act No.5 of 1927, Act No. 23 of 1957, Act No. 57 of 1969).
The curators do the important work of connecting this legacy to contemporary perspectives on sex, sexuality and sexual relationships.
To use the words of the host venue, the KZNSA Gallery, ‘’The essay draws on original artwork as well as reference material from art, literature, philosophy, legal documents, letters, newspaper clippings and exhibition catalogues, among other sources.
Lewis Nkosi’s first novel is set in Durban’s segregated beaches, and narrated by a black man awaiting execution for allegedly raping a white woman. When it appeared, the novel was equally critiqued and praised by many, including Henry Louis Gates Junior, who remarked in The New York Times how it “confronts boldly and imaginatively the strange interplay of bondage, desire and torture inherent in interracial sexual relationships within the South African prison house of apartheid.”
Meanwhile, South African writer Andre Brink accused Nkosi of being fascinated with interracial sexual relations and of being guilty of “distortion and exaggeration.”
Mating Birds can be understood as a story about the distortion of intimate relationships in apartheid South Africa.
They go on to say, ‘’Mating Birds Vol.2 uses the exhibition space to map the manner in which artists have intervened in the space of sexual politics and how they continue to reshape the visual vocabulary of sexuality and sexual freedoms, whilst questioning the way bodies are still impacted by the residual nature of repressing colonial and apartheid policies.’’
The exhibition called upon works by prominent artists such as Billie Zangewa, Dineo Seshee Bopape, Lady Skollie, Sabelo Mlangeni, Simnikiwe Buhlungu, Tracey Rose and Trevor Makhoba. Reference materials are drawn from literature, including, Bessie Head, Lebo Mashile, Lewis Nkosi, Makhosazana Xaba and Zakes Mda, as well philosophical texts, historical archives and other sources.
The range of artists featured is drawn from vastly different disciplines of knowledge and cultural productions, such as painting, literature, and even silk fabrics, poetry and multimedia.
The exhibition occupied a short-lived window as it unfortunately closed on the 10th February 2019.
Visit kznsagallery.co.za for their most recent exhibition listings.
Russel Hlongwane operates as a curator, producer, researcher, theorist and consultant. He has shown work in Munich, Marrakech, Maputo, Karlsruhe, Harare, Bristol, Tokyo as well as throughout South Africa.