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08 August 2018 Photo Rulanzen Martin
WomensMonth Art exhibition honours courageous South African women
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela became affectionately known as the ‘Mother of the Nation’. She passed away on 2 April 2018. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela by Alf Khumalo on display at the Oliewenhuis Art Gallery.

Art in its many forms has always challenged controversial issues in national and international discourse. The exhibition in commemoration of Women’s Day, titled Speaking out and standing up: An exhibition in honour of South African women, highlights women’s voices by narrating their own life histories. 

In collaboration with the Oliewenhuis Art Museum, the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies (CGAS) at the University of the Free State hosted an art exhibition on 1 August 2018. The exhibition took place on the same day as the national #TotalShutDown protests challenging gender-based violence and rape across South Africa. The exhibition included numerous South African female artists who have combined art and activism and was curated by Yolanda de Kock from Oliewenhuis. The works are on display at Oliewenhuis until 26 August 2018.

The historical representation of South African women

“Tonight’s exhibition focuses on the historical and contemporary representation of SA women, and one woman that deserves acknowledgement, is Winnie Madikizela-Mandela,” said Dr Nadine Lake, Gender Studies Programme Director at CGAS. She also highlighted the fact that “Madikizela-Mandela’s life attests to the multifaceted nature of black women’s lives. Her life reveals that black women are not automatically regarded as agents in their own right, but face discrimination, isolation, and exclusion when they step out of the parameters defined for them.” 

Dr Lake furthermore asserted that, “South African Women’s Month and Day is a reflection and commemoration of women’s achievements but is increasingly being criticised by feminists across the country. While the constitution enshrines the rights of women and prohibits discrimination, it has become clear that there is a huge disconnection between an aspirational ideology and women’s lived realities.” 

Women should lead their own narrative

Sharon Snell, Chief Executive Officer of the National Museum, said, “The dominant voice about Women’s Day is to spoil women and to give them flowers and chocolates on the day, in the same way as for Mother’s Day.” 

Women’s Day has unfortunately been equated to the traditional role that women play. The purpose of Women’s Day is to change those perceptions and to highlight issues of inequality. Snell said, “It is time for women to lead their own narrative.”

The exhibition highlights the important intersection between art and activism and focuses on aspects such as gender-based violence, homosexuality, corrective rape, domesticity and intersectionality, consumerism and feminism, traditional and family histories, women’s and children’s rights, identity and gender, bullying and domestic violence. Snell emphasised the fact that art has not been silenced and has carefully been articulating these important messages around gendered and social inequalities. 

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