Living sculpture: On a wing and a prayer

02 August 2016 - 10:43 By Mary Corrigall

When Sethembile Msezane heard that the contentious Rhodes statue was to be removed from the Cape Town University campus she dropped everything, jumped into a leotard and pair of stilettoes and made a beeline for the monument. She knew exactly what she was going to do; she had been working on a series of public performances designed to challenge white, male colonial figures and this seminal event presented her with the perfect opportunity to enact another one of her "living sculptures".Standing on a plinth arms aloft and adorned with wings she remained inert for hours as crowds massed to witness the Rhodes statue being dismantled."I was excited that I was not the only one who saw the danger of having these figures in public spaces. It wasn't just about the statue. With my work, the issue (with the Rhodes statue) is about problems in society at large," she says.Msezane has been making waves in Joburg and Cape Town with the photograph of her performance, which is on exhibit at the Barclay's L'atelier exhibition (she was chosen as one of the top 10 artists) and at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town where it forms part of the Art of Disruptions exhibition.Titled Chapungu - The Day Rhodes Fell (2015,) it shows Msezane with her winged arms spread wide. She says it signifies a form of liberation . Her face is obscured by a beaded veil, which she was to have worn at a coming-of-age ceremony. The anonymity it afforded , enabled her to stand for all women rather than just herself." It's not that I am ashamed. I just want people to look at the performance and not me. I want them to observe, be critical and see their mothers, sisters and other women represented in my performance."Msezane's display may have competed with the removal of the statue but the event let her, visibly and quite literally, insert herself into history as it was unfolding.As one sculpture was being dismantled, she was presenting or, suggesting, an alternative - in the form, not so much of herself, but of all black women."Despite affirmative action there's still a glass ceiling that we need to break through. We don't see ourselves in public spaces."White Afrikaner figures dominate, particularly in Cape Town. There's very little representation of black women by black women artists."Not everyone who witnessed her performance got the message. Many had a knee-jerk reaction that the female body elicits."Several comments about my body were made by women. Some found it powerful once they stopped talking about the stretch marks on my butt."Msezane seems to accept and seek out the risk that public performance entails."It's a way of interacting and engaging with the public and getting out of the studio, where it can be quite isolating."

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