(This article was first published on 7 April 2018 in the Weekend Argus, a weekly regional newspaper distributed in the Western Cape, South Africa.)
Visual conversations about masculinity and gender-based violence across three separate exhibitions at the Iziko Slave Lodge opened this week, interfacing various perspectives of essentially the same problem.
The city centre’s Slave Lodge, at some point used as a brothel, has often hosted exhibitions that talk of current societal challenges. These exhibitions carry on with the museum’s agenda of shifting “from human wrongs to human rights”.
I Am What I Am, Places, Faces, and Spaces, one of the three exhibitions, is curated by the local sex worker’s rights lobby group, SWEAT.
Iziko’s social history curator Lynn Abrahams says this exhibition links directly to the lodge’s flesh trade history.
“It’s opening up a conversation on multiple levels on the history of the lodge; power relations between masters and slaves at that time; the link between our history and heritage that is intertwined with slavery and power relations,” she says.
The exhibition also about the “insertion of ‘outcasts and marginalized bodies’ into spaces of institutional memory”, adds Abrahams.
A series of photographs “allow visitors a very empowering look at the intimacy of the day-to-day lives of sex workers through their own lens and frame”.
A second exhibition, Enough is Enough which is curated by 1000 Women Trust organisation, “aims to create awareness of the seriousness of domestic and sexual violence against women, youth and our children”.
And then there is Still Figuring out What It Is to Be a Man curated by Italian writer Antonia Porter and featuring photographs by her compatriot Giovanna Del Sarto.
Porter says their work is a “response to the increased gender and sexual based violence against vulnerable groups” and “zooms in on masculinity and how men respond to the escalation of gender-based and sexual violence against women and children”.
“In figuring out what means to be a man, these men question whether masculinity is in crisis,” she adds.
“The project explores the experiences of six young, middle-class, metropolitan South African men, and how such men see themselves today.
“Taking an empathetic view of individual men, but a critical one of patriarchy, Still Figuring Out considers various aspects of manhood and masculinity in contemporary South Africa, through a nuanced lens.”
The featured men are from a “range of cultural and racial backgrounds, these men in their twenties and thirties are of the country’s metropolitan elite, sharing broadly middle-class upbringings and familiarity with the urban professional world of South Africa – a group that, more than any other, society seeks to please”, according to Porter.
“From creative and social entrepreneurs to film-makers to conflict journalists-turned-eco-farmers, these men reflect on their masculinities, contemplating various influences on their sense of manhood, and what they learned about becoming men from those who raised them,” adds Porter.
“Through visual and audio snapshots of their lives, this multimedia project promotes the positive, courageous, and impressive qualities of the individual men involved; including their vulnerabilities.
“Many of these attributes fall outside of the traits usually associated with manhood and masculinity. Their stories also express some of the pressures and costs exerted on men by mainstream masculinities and patriarchy.”
Alfonso Tagliaferri, the Italian consul-general in Cape Town, has supported Porter’s exhibition and will host a walkabout at the Slave Lodge this afternoon (SATURDAY).
Abrahams says the exhibitions are part of the contemporary museum’s role, being “tasked with the responsibility of contributing towards social cohesion and nation building”.
“We aim to create platforms for much needed conversation and dialogue on issues related to social justice, which in this case is around the escalation and seriousness of gender based and sexual violence, the decriminalization of sex work and hegemonic ideals of masculinity,” says Abrahams.
“At the same time we challenge visitors to reflect upon and question how they may perpetuate harmful stigmas that deny marginalised individuals their right to dignity and humanity.”
The three exhibitions will run at the Iziko Slave Lodge on Wale Street in the city centre for the next six months.