With No More Cliches, Please artist Tsoku Maela endeavours to capture the resistance of brown women and to address the clichÃ©s associated with resistance and the brown female figure. Maelaâ€™s body of work melds imagery, poetry, and protest in a carefully curated array of photographs, poems, emails, tweets, and recordings of conversation and song. The exhibition is a conversation about the clichÃ© of resistance often encapsulated in the contours and shapes the brown female figure. The Daily Vox spoke to Maela and visited the exhibition.
The body of work is a new exhibition in itself. Itâ€™s my first solo in Johannesburg. I decided to go with a different collection of work looking at the female form, more specifically the brown femme form.
Iâ€™ve been shooting these images since about 2016. Itâ€™s like a curation of all the awesome work of brown femmes who have given me consent to use images Iâ€™ve taken of them. Itâ€™s a study of the brown femme form.
Resistance could be anything that subjugate your will to be free. Iâ€™m interested in looking at the idea of how brown femmes are considered to resist struggles or depicted in the media on things like femicide, interpersonal violence or domestic violence. Itâ€™s not necessarily toyi-toying in the street saying free education for all. Resistance is choosing your way over society’s way. A black women who stands up and says my brown skin is beautiful, that for me is resistance. Youâ€™re choosing your way. I choose self love as a form of resistance for a brown femme form because its seen as inferior to whiteness.
Iâ€™m trying to reframe the concept of resistance that stems from a sense of self love and just love in general for other brown femmes and for other human beings alike. Thatâ€™s how I conceptualise the brown femme formâ€™s resistance in the world – not this idea of angry people but this idea that we love so we are willing to die and fight for it.
I say femme instead of female because Iâ€™m trying to be inclusive of transwomen and males that consider themselves to be a she. A femme has nothing to do with gender, it has to do with how you perceive yourself as a person. Femininity and masculinity as concepts have nothing to do with gender. Gender is a social construct. I contextualise myself as a non-binary person, I donâ€™t subscribe to the concept of a he or a she. Femininity and masculinity for me are energy concepts. It has everything to do with the state of mind, a level of consciousness as opposed to the physical mind. They exist on a spectrum where femininity has more to do with creativity and masculinity with those things that are more structural. Iâ€™m trying to frame femininity in this context as a shade of love that we should all aspire to.
Every single one of those women in the recordings – the conversations you hear in the audio were sent to me as voice recordings and voice notes which Iâ€™ve recreated (not Nina Simone of course) – the photographs are all my friends, my family. The recordings femmes are speaking to frivolous shit, political stuff, about everything. Males do that too but why do we think itâ€™s so different? Weâ€™re having the same conversations, we have the same aspirations. All the poems and photographs that Iâ€™ve chosen are based on the conversations in the recordings. The headlines on the cover image, the vague cover image, those are topics that are being negated in mainstream media.
Iâ€™ve spoken in depth with the women in my art about femme identity, thatâ€™s where I get a lot of my understanding barring the fact that I was only raised by women as well. It doesnâ€™t give me the leeway to be empathetic about femme identity. I can other be sympathetic about it because I donâ€™t really understand what itâ€™s like to be a woman, I can only understand from a human point of view. If someone says they were bullied in school for the colour of their skin, I could relate to that but if someone says men were catcalling me in the street I could never relate to that because as a male Iâ€™ve had the privilege of not being catcalled in the street.
Iâ€™m using my presence as a male black body – which is often seen as a destructive force – as a constructive force. I am part of the problem, Iâ€™d like to be part of the solution. You canâ€™t have a conversation about femicide without speaking of the preconditioning of young men to be violent. As a black male body, Iâ€™m being conditioned to hate you but Iâ€™m trying to love you. If Iâ€™m not being destructive in the conversation, I donâ€™t see how Iâ€™m consuming the brown femme experience.
Where are we getting our wires crossed as males and females in the world? Is it because weâ€™re conditioned to think we are so different? That for males success is determined by bigger, better, faster, sexual conquest and capitalist gains and for females itâ€™s like you look pretty, if youâ€™re not skinny youâ€™re not pretty enough? Boys are playing with guns and toy cars and women are playing with Barbies and pink is supposed to be their favourite colour but why canâ€™t a male child like pink? Itâ€™s the language that we use to raise our children that makes us think weâ€™re so different.
What calmed my anxieties of being a black male form photographing brown femmes is how I saw them. How I captured them showed me how I thought about them – in a tenderness, a gentleness, as royalty. That helped me think it wasnâ€™t that bad to be part of the conversation as a black male body.
Lizamore & Associates is currently showcasing three photographic solo exhibitions by Manyatsa Monyamane, Justin Dingwall and Tsoku Maela – all interrogating socio-political issues around brown and black female identity. The exhibition opened on 1 March and will run until 28 March 2018.