Speaking truth to statues

19 July 2016 - 09:05 By Sean O'Toole

Though it is not uncommon to see entertainers posing as human sculptures at the V&A Waterfront, a performance by six young women last week was notably different.Unlike the bronze-painted men who gather along Quay Four, the six performers from the artist collective iQhiya were not soliciting donations.If anything, their silent protest in front of sculptures portraying South Africa's four Nobel Peace laureates was meant to provoke.Fashion is an important entry point into this all-black, all-female collective of 11 art students from the University of Cape Town. The group is named after the Xhosa word for a head wrap.None of iQhiya's participating members, however, wore a head wrap on the cold winter evening on which they silently confronted sculptor Claudette Schreuders's idiosyncratic depictions of Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.At risk of stating the obvious, all these historical figures are male. The absence of black women in public life is a recurring point of objection for iQhiya.When the group exhibited at Cape Town's AVA Gallery in April, they spoke of this, and how rarely black woman artists sit together to formulate collective projects. They also used the word "occupy" to explain their strategies.Among iQhiya's members is Sethembile Msezane, a 25-year-old fine arts master's student and top-10 finalist in this year's Barclays L'Atelier art competition. Msezane is best known for her four-hour costumed performance as a Zimbabwean bird in front of Marion Walgate's study of Cecil John Rhodes on the day it was removed from its plinth at UCT last year."I believe South Africa's memorialised public spaces are barren of the black female body," Msezane told The Guardian newspaper last year. The occupation of Nobel Square extended the remit of this, in effect, troubling male-centric reading of our struggle history.

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