The Female Line
29.08.19 – 19.10.19
To be feminine is still defined by the dividing lines that bore its name, even after the milestones achieved by the oppressed to take these meanings as their own, and make of themselves what they want. These violent lines etched into the history of womanhood are not all that exist for femininity to draw from. The Female Line serves as homage to the heritage that has been passed down in spite of every effort to mould, malign and mystify its legacy. This exhibition asks, what lies in the bones of our matrilineal society that could illuminate every innate desire; sense of shame; connection or fear? What binds us in our otherness? What strips us of our togetherness? This group exhibition aims to address the narrative at its nexus; in all honesty, polarity and universality that is uncovered in the wake of its pursuit.
In isolating the inherent roles within matrilineal ancestry, the artists approached the task of deconstructing certain cultures which had laid its foundations upon the grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, and nieces who supply it. How do these roles define those who are confined by them? How do these roles affect the society that created them? These cultures exist under our collective dismissal, disbelief and shame-inducing ignorance. Our passivity adds the kind of nuance that cannot be circumvented by any medium, and therefore cannot be ignored. Simphiwe Buthelezi speaks to this with her piece Abadala Bayakhuluma (2019), using themes of ancestral guidance and the belief that these connections thrive in us, compel us to acknowledge them, and be empowered by them. Romina Bassu’s work, Precept, challenges this as well, by paying attention to the physical and social cues used to direct womanhood and subject it to its binary form.
Engaging in this narrative with artists from across the globe embodies the aim of the exhibition to do more than pay homage to womanhood; but to unravel it to its very core, from every possible angle and understanding. To honour The Female Line is to draw it out; to see where it leads, who it follows, who it binds, and to prove how it is a living and breathing thing weaving its way through all of us. Perhaps it is a simple yearning for connection; perhaps it is an outright command for respect. Deconstructing what the female line presents itself as for each artist, and allowing for every perspective shift between pieces to inform the last in this ongoing conversation is more than a metaphor – it is a practical obligation on behalf of the audience to cease assumption or expectation. Chechu Álava’s Rebel Kid (2019) stares directly into the debate of presumptuousness; who is to say what bravery looks like? Who is to say how trustworthiness settles on the colour of our skin? These comparisons occur because of social associations. Challenging this is done simply by offering up the truth in comparison. It is done by giving form to the secrets passed down to each by stern telepathy and in doing so, scrutinising the aftermath of following these orders as portrayed in Bassu’s work, Precept (2017).
Looking at our past while emphasising womanhood, is essential in recalibrating our thinking as well as understanding our place and power within it. Richard Mudariki’s History Book is a poignant collection of colour, character and summation of this sentiment. There is weight in what needs to be unpacked, and that takes the kind of detail and attentiveness – also shown in Sepideh Mehraban’s works.
The dedicated dissonance of modern media that induces misogyny, racism, homophobia and a blanketed ignorance, that surveys everything that dares to simply exist in its wake – how does this warp us all? Brett Seiler’s works speak to this. These bigotries compound to form obstacles between what we yearn after and what we ask for. More obstacles take the shape of poverty, excess, illness, honour and disaster. Any and every path is chosen by the artists and their subsequent experiences should be seen not as a divergence from, but rather a constant reinterpretation of The Female Line that connects them all. The experience of being borne of this sphere of knowledge grows beyond its own definition. It isn’t bound by those who attempt to restrict it to a malleable, compliant stereotype –instead, it is a manifestation of metamorphosed matriarchy: capable, cunning and ready to be whatever it chooses.
What lives in the sublets of the divine feminine? Which connotations turned to definitions? How has modern society prescribed madness or malignancy here? In unveiling each artist’s puzzle piece, The Female Line is an opportunity for each of them and each audience member in fact, to analyse themselves as we have analysed all others against “the other”. It is an opportunity to speak to every elemental factor of being under the guidance of the line itself, so to speak. In which ways does femininity adapt to us? Do our cultures, our belief systems, principles and experiences layer us in disguise to one another, or do they produce languages of body, eye and mouth that only we who accept can decode? What does this inheritance present us with, molecularly? Whose memories have burrowed into our muscles, twitching at the call of resignation? What is the magic that animates our resilience, our distance from the expected?
This group exhibition presents itself as a platform upon which artists can navigate these realities in their own time, and in their own manner. A catharsis of character that is aware of what should be kept and honoured, destroyed and denied access to the sacred space being carved here. Perhaps The Female Line is a hope for grieving, liberation or evidence, but that is not to say each artist is accessing only one of these elements at a time. The line infiltrates not only heritage, or trauma or genetics, but also connects the artists through the multidimensional nature of what they all represent.
A tribute of textures, text, humour and hope, showcasing beadwork and tapestry amongst frames of oil and watercolour to draw the eye from one piece to the next. The stories told in each artwork create a journey out of the exhibition; a journey taken beyond bias, or perhaps despite its very existence. The Female Line is recentering womanhood on itself and freeing it from obligation – its supposed template – allowing it to take its true form.
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” – Toni Morrison
The Female Line includes the works of:
Chechu Álava (Spain)
Romina Bassu (Italy)
Simphiwe Buthelezi (South Africa)
Jeanne Gaigher (South Africa)
Gabrielle Kruger (South Africa)
Sepideh Mehraban (Iran)
Richard Mudariki (Zimbabwe)
Kresiah Mukwazhi (Zimbabwe)
Asemahle Ntlonti (South Africa)
Talia Ramkilawan (South Africa)
Brett Seiler (Zimbabwe)
Iris Schomaker (Germany)
Text by Misha Krynauw