BY BILLY SUTER
ART that both appeals to the eye and provides much food for thought is at the heart of a new exhibition, Beauty and its Beasts, that runs from Friday (March 31) until May 28 at the Durban Art Gallery in the City Hall.
The display has been designed to stimulate contemplation about women, and raise questions about the way we create, perpetuate or allow gender stereotypes, explains publicist Illa Thompson.
The collections of the Durban Art Gallery have been excavated to unearth works that speak directly to the evolution of the female stereotype – and works on show examine how the stereotype was created and how artists have either perpetuated the phenomenon or subverted it.
The works on view were selected primarily from the collections of the Durban Art Gallery and, where gaps were identified, works have been borrowed from other collections.
“The viewer will be guided by the wall text identifying themes, and it is here the voices of the collaborators bring resonance and add strata to the selections,” says Thompson.
Works borrowed from other art collections include Mary Sibande’s Cry Havoc and Zanele Muholi’s Condoms & Feet – contemporary pieces that sit provocatively alongside Hubert von Herkomer’s Queen Victoria.
“What’s in a stereotype? It’s a label to enhance or reduce an ego, and rarely one’s own choice. Some stereotypes are flattering but more often they are used to insult or belittle,” says the Durban Art Gallery’s Jenny Stretton, curator of the exhibition.
“Stereotype is a notion based on prejudice rather than fact, which by repetition and with time, becomes fixed in people’s minds.
“The famous art collective ‘Guerilla Girls’ describes a stereotype as: ‘a box, usually too small that a girl gets jammed into, and an archetype as a pedestal usually too high that a girl gets lifted onto’.
“Stereotypes are born in utero. From the time a child is born it is gender-coded through clothing and the colours assigned to the objects around it.
“As a girl grows she will encounter stereotypes at every stage of her life. Stereotypes are born in popular culture and have a strong connection to language and graphic design.
“The media, TV, Facebook, magazines, internet, music and newspapers are the most influential practitioners of stereotyping and wield enormous power over this projection.”
The exhibition is curated by Stretton in collaboration with Jessica Bothma, Carol Brown, Nindya Bucktowar, Zinhle Khumalo, Sinethemba Ngubane, Osmosisliza, Fran Saunders and Swany.
Works have been loaned from Campbell Collections, University of KwaZulu-Natal; Everard Read Circa Cape Town; GalleryMomo, Cape Town; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg; and the Uinsa Permanent Collection, Pretoria.
Durban art Gallery hours are from 8.30am to 4pm Mondays to Saturdays, and from 11am to 4pm on Sundays.
School groups are most welcome to use this exhibition as a visual tool for debate around issues of gender, prejudice and stereotypes– special educational guided walkabouts can be arranged on request.
For further details contact Stretton at 031 311 2264 or 031 332 7286.