Muzane’s Weblog

Patriarch: Changing representation of male identity in South African visual art…
January 27, 2009, 3:11 am
Filed under: exhibitions

 Iziko South African National Gallery is part feminist fun, part a serious exploration. We drew primarily on artworks from the South African National Gallery’s Permanent Collection to suggest a blurring of that much patrolled border between the genders.

Within a few days of opening there was some minor bruhaha about the inclusion of a Zanele Muholi photograph showing a strap-on dildo; but, as Robert Sloon wrote on Artheat, “it seemed like a strange thing to not include in a show called Patriarch

…  Zanele Muholi’s work shows a woman taking on this power to self-identify. Much has been written about the phallus/ penis as a signifier not only of male identity, but of male patriarchal power. It is the aggressive, active nature of the phallus that is historically seen as a justification for male superiority and control; by corollary it is the woman’s “lack” (as it is described by Sigmund Freud) that supposedly accounts for feminine passivity and pliability.

The reference to lesbian sexuality in Muholi’s work suggests that the active role traditionally associated with the male is here assumed by a woman, thereby questioning what is normal sexual practice and expected gender roles. Muholi’s work potentially shocks and outrages because it shows a sex-toy and explicitly shows lesbian sexuality, but also because it attacks that last bastion of maleness: the physiology and the use of such as a justification for patriarchal power.

Themes of control and loss thereof, and the body beautiful are drawn together in a lighthearted way in Parade by Robert Hodgins.


25 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town
PO Box 61, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa
Telephone +27 (0)21 467 4673
Facsimile +27 (0) 21 467 6680 

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