The world is awakening to the power imbalances of feminine and masculine energies, more so in the latter part of 2017 when the #MeToo movement brought awareness to the sexual misconducts against women across multiple industries and subsequently with the #TimesUp movement that was established earlier this year.
Art in its various forms is a reflection of the times and these 6 visual artists in their artistries and narratives are honouring black womanhood and shining a light on topics that society does not always engage in when it comes to women.
Coming of Age
22-year-old Cape Town based artist Tony Gum, winner of the 2017 Miami Beach PULSE Prize for her solo exhibition “Ode to She”, invites the viewer to experience the narrative of transition and transformation of a young woman.
Gum’s work looks at the journey in Xhosa tradition known as, ‘intonjane’ when, a young girl ‘intombi’, bare chested, adorned in traditional beads and ‘imbaola’, a traditional natural body clay, becomes a woman ‘umfazi’ and later, ‘umama omkhulu’ or ‘ixhego’ – old lady.
"That process of being a woman or human is so wonderful, how about we pay homage to that? How about we understand and acknowledge this…we tend to look past each other, we don’t see each other for who we are, sometimes we miss our own personal experiences, the truths of being an individual. So this work, ‘Ode to She’, is a letter to self’." - Tony Gum
Johannesburg based fine art photographer and BTech in photography graduate Manyatsa Monyamane who was awarded the Lizamore & Associates Mentorship Prize, as well as the The Multi and New Media / Photography Merit Award for her work titled “Vusi Mkhube” in 2017; is a part of a group of over 100 female photographers of African descent worldwide who have contributed to a book titled Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora.
Monyamane also recently produced a photo series documenting the youth of 1970's South Africa, a period which was monumental for the youth's role in the abolition of apartheid.
“My photography is aimed at creating an archive and to serve some sort of historic record, while putting a spotlight on unpopular themes and subject matters and celebrating everyday life,” - Manyatsa Monyamane
Nigerian documentary photographer, Yagazie Emezi’s portraits document West African women and men in the truest sense. Emezie began her journey as a self-taught photographer in 2015, her projects explore themes such as beauty and body image, to name a few.
Her photo series published in Vogue titled the Beauties of West Point was created while working with women and girls in Liberia and showcases how the standards of beauty for those women were not ones she was familiar with, theirs is to wear what you like simply because you like it, without considering if other people will find it aesthetically appealing.
“They see a gold dress and think, that is a gold dress and it’s going to be on my body. We see a gold dress and we think, how will it look on my body?”
Strength in Vulnerability
Maxim Vakhovskiy is a portrait photographer of Euro-Jewish heritage from North Carolina. His work is dedicated to celebrating the beauty of women of African descent from all walks of life, women of power, women of passion, mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends, rebels – from artists to soldiers. Much of his work is part of an ongoing project and portraiture book titled “Black Venus”.
Vakhovskiy's work is particularly admirable and profound especially in the state that the world is in, where a light is finally being shone on the harassment, exploitation and violence against the female body; here is a man allowing women to be their most vulnerable selves and in so doing celebrating and honouring these women and seeing the female form as it is and not something to be objectified.
"The scars, stretch marks, birthmarks, freckles, and even hairy legs are all there. “I wanted to specifically tell the story of the body, which is one of the iconic representative elements to womanhood—the pregnant body, the muscle, the body hair, the hints of youth and age, the body art, and the visual signs reflective of various lifestyles." - Maxim Vakhovskiy
Angolan-Dutch multi disciplinary artist Lola keyezua is a storyteller using art as a communication tool that provokes, educates and empowers without pity.
Her latest work Fortia which she describes as a very contemporary masked ritual created in collaboration with a group of six men with physical disabilities is Keyezua’s most personal project to date and as she prefers to describe it, a ritual that helped her with the loss of her father. All the masks are handmade and designed by the six male artists alongside Keyezua.
“I took my life experience and tried several times to portray it in masks, to make it a symbol to that which connects each mask to a ritual; where I as a daughter guide the spirits, memories and emotions to rest, to finally rest.”
Keyezua hopes to grow Fortia into a body of work that honours each person that battles with an emotional reaction to physical disability, to empower them and give them the power to reconstruct their lives without depending on charity.
Conceptual artist, performance artist and painter Lina Iris Viktor was raised in London to Liberian parents; she traveled extensively in her youth also living in South Africa for many years, she currently works from her studio in New York City.
Viktor adheres to the colour palette of blue, black, white and 24-karat gold to create paintings, sculptural works, photography, performance works, and installation belonging both to contemporary and ancient art forms and calls into question the nature of time and being.
In describing her latest work Black Exodus, the artist says, "Black Exodus explores the charged topic of race universally, lifting the veil of seemingly ‘colour-blind’ societies, and reinvestigating stereotypes surrounding “blackness”. Across the globe, throughout history and to this very day, the black race has suffered subjugation and marginalisation, and “blackness” has become indicative of deficiency, or absence. The exhibition repositions the colour as a ‘materia prima’ - the ultimate presence that is the source of all matter, all people and all life; it is the place from which gold and precious materials are mined, and in which stars and planets are born."
Viktor has an upcoming solo exhibition, The Armory with Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in March 2018.
Writing: Phendu Kuta