Entertainment Art Happily Never After at the AVA

Happily Never After at the AVA

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The group exhibition Happily Never After encompasses three bodies ‘at’ work which engage performative strategies of self, in an attempt to challenge ideological constructions.

The three bodies of work actively employ post colonialist and feminist ideas of mimesis (the-same-but-not-quite) as a means of subversiveness to contest identity categories resulting in critical enquiries that are humorous, playful and, at times, acerbic.

The artists Sharlene Khan, Nelmarie du Preez and Lebohang Kganye choose masquerade and sartorial strategies in front of the digital camera lens, to interrogate social issues as it relates to their lives: Khan satirises various dimensions of her South African Indian identity, while du Preez parodies constructions of femininity via the white wedding spectacle, and Kganye deconstructs the influence of Western fairy tales on her childhood psyche. By using their own bodies not only as sites of critique, but also as sources for experience, the artists explore the difference between the performative dimension of the day-to-day and its artistic re-enactment. This way, the performative nature of the racial, gendered bodies of the artists as well as of the viewer implicate the social scripting that informs their roles daily.

In What I look like, What I feel like (2008), Sharlene Khan juxtaposes notions of public projections of oneself versus private personae and masks that one dons in everyday presentations of self. Her dualistic, sometimes explicitly didactic, sometimes caricaturing, restaging of stereotypes of race-class-gender show how these matrices intersect with issues of education and religion and how they play out in and question the transformation of an apartheid subject to a post-apartheid one.

Nelmarie Du Preez’s Shooting the Bride (2012) addresses the gender scripting process in Westernised ‘princess bride’ narratives. The work is a witty tongue-in-cheek criticism of the white wedding, in which external appearances of femininity becomes the dominant trope around which this cultural institution is formed. Du Preez mimics ‘mini-dramas’ described by recently wedded friends and exposes the ‘before’ and ‘afterness’ of the wedding performance. Her back-lit photographs give the autobiographical narratives a hyper-dramatic feel worthy of a popular movie.

In B(l)ack to Fairytales (2011), Lebohang Kganye mockingly role plays her relationship to the Western fairy tales she grew up with as a black child in a township in Johannesburg. Harnessing her adult body in displays of excessive dress up and fantasy and using children’s toys as props, Kganye’s surrealistic photographs make evident the farce of the fairy tale narrative where the princess is saved by her prince and lives ‘happily ever after’. Kganye tries to make evident the psychological disjuncture that occurs between the ‘white’ fairy tale and her black existence, reconstructing a dream-like space where this fantastical violence is played out.