Exhibition redefines womanhood as it puts patriarchy under scrutiny

The exhibition is on Google Art & Culture, featuring 270 works of 30 current students and alumni of the African leadership Academy in Honeydew, West of Johannesburg, through the school’s newly launched AL for the Arts department.

Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

In this exhibition you will be taken on a journey that does not only make you critically think about the position of women in contemporary society in Africa and certainly in the world, but also to engage with the art works in a way that makes you realise the potency of women artists as change makers.

In this case their art works represent the views, perspectives and the feeling of these young women, in relation to patriarchy. Through these art works, 270 in all, the artists represent the voices of many silent women outside the context of this exhibition, dealing with an world where patriarchy rules, including positioning itself in defining the place and role of women in society. It is this that the Redefining Womanhood exhibition is trying to dismantle, and it achieves that very well.

 Some of the participating artists in the AL for the Arts Exhibition Redefinedwomanhood. Picture Credit: Faith Buthelezi

The various art mediums in which the participating artists practice in are quite unapologetic about the mission to do a deadly blow to patriarchy by these young female artists. Whether through music, painting, film, sculpture, photography or drawing, you will not fail to get the message that  these artworks are intended to challenge and contribute to the dismantling of patriarchal attitudes and practices in society that tend to put hurdles on women’s potential in society.

They are young and daring, but their art works suggest that these young creators may have not been part of the generation that constructed art in the future that has shaped the present narrative and art practices about African life with all its beauty, triumphs, possibilities and of course its ugliness on the continent, but they certainly will form part of a generation of black women shaping the art world taking it from the present to the future.

CITYLIFE?ARTS found itself this past Friday as part of a select group of art players invited to the launch of this important exhibition titled Redefined Womanhood.

These thought provoking artworks, created by these young artists working in several art mediums was launched on Friday at Nirox, where a select people were invited to attend in person, but the whole exhibition is on Google Arts and Culture, a platform launched by Google to support art initiatives, designed and developed by Non Profit Organizations and Non Governmental Organisations.

In this exhibition, Google Arts and Culture is collaborating with AL for the Arts, VISA MasterCard and Nirox Foundation in Krugersdorp, situated in the cradle of humankind west of Johannesburg. ,Nirox is a place well known for its sculpture Park, artist residency programme, the hosting of exceptional music concerts, book launches and critically acclaimed  exhibitions, both long term and short term.

AL for the Arts is a recent addition programme of the much internationally lauded African Leadership Academy, whose reputation is in education young African learners from the age of 13-to 19 to become future leaders and change makers on the continent.

In an interview with CITYLIFE/ARTS its head Matthieu Maralack, explained that AL FOR THE Arts was launched  in October 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, and this was its debut exhibition, conceived and put together with Towela Tembo, an alumni of African Leadership Academy of its diploma programmer. She is the curator of the Redefined Womanhood exhibition, who has contributed works of her own in photography to the exhibition.

“What we realized is that some of our alumni and current are interested in pursuing art professionally and therefore there was a need to create this sector. Personally I am a musician who plays the piano, having graduated from Rhodes University, and also at Wits with a Masters Degree in music. I joined the African Leadership Academy a year ago and I am the Sector Lead for AL for the Arts,” explained Maralack. His passion is in grooming leaders in the arts sector. “I come from a Non Governmental Organisation background, having worked with an arts organisation in Joza ia townships n Makhanda. What I have realized is that there is lack of leadership skills in the arts.,” he said.

Tembo, who graduated with a diploma in 2019 from African Leadership Academy is a documentary film maker, photographer and an emerging curator.

Curator Photographer, Filmmaker and emerging curator Towela Tembo/
Picture Credit: Faith Buthelezi

“I googled the school while in Botswana and took a chance to apply. I really never believed that I was going to be accepted because their criteria is quite stringent. But when they accepted me I was excited and I graduated in 2019. I started working on the Redefining Womanhood exhibition a year ago .I worked with both pats graduates and current students selecting works from their portfolio for this exhibition, ending up with 270 works that constitute this debut exhibition by AL for the Arts under the leadership of Mattthieu Maralack,” Tembo told CITYLIFE/ARTS in an interview.

At African Leadership the director of Sector Programmes is Val Wiggett and the Chief Executive officer is Bilha Ndirangu, who constitute the executive structure of the school’s leadership. Both Ndirangu and Wiggett attended the launch as well as executives from Google Arts and Culture, who also spoke.

Though this exhibition does not claim to represent a voice of everyone and their perspectives on the hot issue of patriarchy, what is clear though isd the fact that it is an important step in the right direction by young women, who unlike their mothers and grandmothers are no longer prepared to sand aside helplessly as their voices and presences are being marginalized by patriarchy.

In her curatorial statement this what Tembo has to say:

”For women, it is easy to forget who we truly are with everyone telling us who we ought to be – from having our entire lives contextualized by the nearest man next to us, to the predetermined length of our skirts. There lies a deep, combative power in creating our own vocabulary, especially in a world that labels us on it’s own terms. We might not always know the right words to accurately, precisely and completely describe what womanhood means to us.

However, the gradual attempts to engage with the question ‘What does it mean to me to be a woman?’ ignites a flame that nudges other women to do the same. It is then that we are collectively reminded of the sound of our individual voices, and how beautiful we sound in the presence of each other.

This group exhibition is a collection of over 30 young African women’ voices exercising their artistic agency to embody, embrace and emulate the various aspects of womanhood through over 250 artworks. At one point or another, these different voices became a polyphonic kaleidoscope of stories, imaginations and ideas that invite you, the viewer, to sing along.

You can navigate the exhibition through the following link on Google Arts & Culture

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