Over the years, my work has been most recognizable for its iconic nude, faceless, often laughing figures. This has been a bold statement I have used to depict neutrality in human identity.
Through these figures, one cannot tell what gender, economic status or age the people I represent are. This has allowed everyone who looks at my work to take it as personally as they see fit, seeing themselves through the experiences of the figures on the canvas.
This year, I have not veered far from my iconic figures. This body of work will tell everyday stories of people in the City we reside in. With the use of various accessories, I wish to depict lives from serval walks of life, with the emphasis that we are all visitors in the urban spaces we have grown to call home, that none of us really belong here.
In continuation with the use of my figures to represent the everyday human, I have introduced bold accessories to illuminate the stories and experiences they each have to share. Starting with the introduction of the high/bar stool, which is a graduation from the bench they usually sat on before. This is a slightly more comfortable seat yet still not necessarily a depiction of wealth or success.
It does however elevate my figures to a point of sight amongst others. The elevation could represent either a better financial standing and comfort or a higher social status, elevated enough to speak for others. Another remarkable addition is the t-shirts some of them have on. These are usually in the colours of our top three political parties. This is a jab at the role our politicians should be playing. The notion of t-shirts as political campaigning tools is age old even though its effectiveness is debatable.
These are used both as regalia for the campaigner themselves for visibility as well as bribery towards the poor. My figures wear these as a statement for what we are left with after these elaborately deceptive campaigns are over.One of my favorite is the juxtaposed use of the figures faces. First, I have been able to deliver complex messages through their facial expressions.
The explicit, wide mouthed laughter serving as mockery for any context served by either a fellow figure or the background of the work.
This is juxtaposed by the serious expressionless face that represent dissatisfaction and lack of pride in the context of the work. The second complex is represented by the hand covering the figure’s face juxtaposed by the figures wearing glasses.
The face covered figures would equate to the modern day use of the face palm emoji/emoticon which represents shame or the bold choice to dissociate with whatever context the work places the figure in, whereas the glasses stand for enlightenment, clear sightedness or even elitism. One last noteworthy accessory is the hearts my figures carry with them.
This symbolizes emotion, humanness. It is to say these are people with lives and hearts that need gentle handling.
All of this said, my figures are representatives of stories we often should include in our small talk. On a regular day, waking up and fulfilling one’s purpose is the anticipated norm.
This is beside the circumstances in which one lives. The city’s buzz, the country’s economy, the ruling party’s decisions, one’s social standing amongst those one deems important, the weather even.
The notion that we are all visitors in this city has long been evident. Right from the days of migrant workers, the original bearers of label: Gold diggers.
Everyone has always seen their stay in the city as temporary, to some extent. There really is not a single one of us who can trace their original ancestors and find their roots in Johannesburg. However, we have learnt to make life here work, both for us and for those we leave behind.
Whatever plan we make serves as means to an end. We hustle, we work, we join movements. We socialize.
Whatever makes this stay here a little less heartbreaking.The depiction of either movement or the achievement of the city’s dreams in this work has gotten me to think of how many of us see our government as an instrumental part to the lack of recognition of the so called undervalued people of the city.
The disrespectful removal of the poor, the deliberate misuse of finances meant to help the poor, the consistency in poor service delivery.
What we do not realize is that, like cities, people are resilient. Johannesburg’s ability to stay upright through all this generational turmoil has rubbed off on its dwellers, regardless or their identities.
No amount of legislation, intimidation, negligence or violence can eliminate our voices. Think about it, prostitutes have not gone extinct despite centuries of active suppression. Poor people have not disappeared just because they have had everything they had stripped away.
The point is we are all already here, and that answers the question of whether or not we belong. When all those migrant miners first trekked to the Witwatersrand, they had no idea that the city that would eventually rise around them would soon say to them: this is not yours to keep.
I want to believe that they had hope that what they would build here would one day belong to their sons and grandsons. These are dreams that ended as dreams. But this does not stop us from picking up this dream of belonging like a baton on the last stretch of a 4x100m relay race and still win.
After all, the minimum requirement for a dream is a safe place to lay your head on at night. And this is all we ask for. The only future worth dreaming of is one with all of us in it and values all contributions.We need to hold our government and ourselves accountable to each other to make this shared city a stake for us all, no matter who we are, or how we make homes for ourselves