Is That Bitter Taste Wine? Nah, Boo, It’s The Taste of Ayanda Mabulu’s Paintings Marinated In Racism

Text: Pakama Ngceni and Tiisetso Tlelima

Image: Supplied

Ayanda Mabulu Culture Review

The first thing we have to admit is that we did not expect the paintings to dazzle us with new knowledge when we attended the exhibition opening for Ayanda Mabulu and Vusi Beauchamp’s works at the Kalashnikov Gallery in Braamfontein recently. We were not shocked that Msholozi’s penis made its usual appearance. Hundreds of years of oppression have taught us nothing if not the many ways black bodies are readily available as objects in the world. Black people’s bodies are things to be looked at, bought and sold for ‘you know who’s’ gaze and puts questions to what is considered beautiful or desired artistic tastes and who largely profits from this state of affairs.

We like art, we also like wine. We can’t afford to buy art, let alone afford to collect artworks that are easily sold at 80 grand a pop. We figure that free wine at an exhibition opening under a dubious name is a lekker, though not progressive, incentive from an industry that has, in our eyes, profited because of what can be referred to as the totality of white racism in our society. Yes, the South African art space, as it currently stands is a good old fashioned factory that profits off black pain despite its airs about creativity, freedom and diversity. Unsolicited dick pictures guarded by security and displayed in what remains a tricky space for black bodies aside, we thought free wine would also grace us with its presence, but alas, no free wine. This is our first complaint.

Mabulu is well known as a protest artist of sorts, an artist whose work centres on the social disruption of the status quo. This view seemingly goes unchallenged even by those who disagree with his portrayal of Msholozi’s pipi because they understand it to mean he is challenging the social order of things. But what are the deliberate statements being made about black people that remain unchallenged or worse condoned by the artist’s visual work? You will remember that there was a lot of hoo-hah around the painting of Msholozi having sex with the darling of the world, Nelson Mandela. Many opponents to the work went to town about the implications of “raping” Mandela’s legacy; apparently there was no justification for this image as if sexual assault can ever be justified. It clearly needs to be said: Mabulu and everybody else should stop right there with linking systematic anti-black violence to sexual acts that are portrayed as undesirable. This smells a lot like trivialising the stories of gay men and puts the burden of shame on the wrong targets. Apparently two grown men cannot have consensual sex on a chair and enjoy it. In 2017, our visual language continues to make sex between men a taboo which undermines hard worn struggles against homophobia. It is apparently permissible to use corruption to spit in the face of the LGBTI community even though corruption cannot realistically be put solely at Msholozi’s doorstep. We forget that he is merely implementing ANC neo-liberal policies. It is important to note that both Mandela and Mbeki were responsible for managing these violent policies which have killed black people and endorsed corruption systematically. Policies that will continue long after Msholozi has finished his term. Let’s park this for now and go back to Mabulu’s clear homophobia in his work.

Previously, Mabulu also painted Zuma performing a sex act on a naked Atul Gupta on an aircraft. Again, certain sex acts are to be shamed and used to denigrate those associated with performing them. At the recent exhibition, Mabulu displayed yet another painting where Zuma’s figure and his side kick penis are quite central. In the painting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is on the floor, legs up and masturbating with a rolled up Vote ANC headlined newspaper. The masturbation itself seems to be at the pleasure of Zuma who is standing in front of her because black women cannot enjoy sexual freedom unless it is for the pleasure of a man. It is not clear to us whether she is going to be raped by Zuma or the ANC. What is clear is that she is represented as the immoral, promiscuous jezebel that is so often associated with black women. This is another trope that was used in legitimising sexual assault of black women by slave owners because a sexually free woman cannot be a victim of sexual assault. We don’t know why Mabulu painted her in this way, but to us she seems to have no agency. She is not the Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma who is fully aware of the anti-blackness of the ANC or who has actively participated in furthering institutions that are anti-black women, including but not limited to how the ANC generally treated Fezekile Kuzwayo.

This comparison of horrible things that are not rape with rape also does not settle well with actual rape survivors, especially with the kinds of scary numbers of rapists we know exist. Worse still, somewhere in the background is a mirror reflection of Kuzwayo sitting on a bed. She is chained and smiling. The text on the side of the artwork reads: “In this dog we fucked even with his bastard and prostitute…” Sex work, it’s called sex flippen work!. “He went on to rape Khwezi and now his ex wife wants us to vote ourselves into rape kingdom rapedom,” continues the quote. Under the pretense of standing up for Kuzwayo, Mabulu chooses to paint her naked behind the towering figure of a fully dressed Zuma. The casting of Kuzwayo as just a perpetual powerless rape victim in another ‘episode of Zuma and the wielding penis’ is horrific. She is a passive, submissive woman who has no real purpose other than being used as an object to be whipped out every time someone wants to give Zuma the middle finger. In other words, Mabulu uses Kuzwayo as the fodder to which men fight other men. He dares, in a further installation in the same exhibition to write: It is this monkey that raped Khwezi and you might be next in line.” We’ll let that sink in while we digest the implications of triggering those who already experience the real threat of sexual assault on a daily, without ever voting in a corrupt official into power as a prerequisite.

Exploiting sexual violence as a metaphor in his artwork is insensitive. We have ourselves been around platforms where black women especially have called him out on this. So it is not that nobody has ever told him how harmful his art is,but these kinds of callouts have had no effect on his work it seems. In fact, time and time again, we are told it is art, that he is driving a point home about the violence of the ANC on the general population, that he has a right to express himself, and even that we, the targets of many sexual assaults should be grateful to him for “highlighting” our plight. All the wows for erasing the work of 1in9 and all the women who built an institutional support of resistance for Kuzwayo and other women who speak out.

Mabulu has been publicly quoted on his work as saying IsiXhosa asitolikwa [you cannot translate isiXhosa] so we also won’t beat about the bush. He is a man portraying himself as some sort of expert on the feelings of those who have been sexually assaulted, a crusader for the cause. Except Zuma is not a rapist because he is a bad man, he is not a rapist because he is corrupt, he is not a rapist because he is in power and using it to enrich some. This idea that people are raped by monsters from outer space and not by nice men with families, good community roots and yes awaiting Presidents also, is an attack to the ground work black women have been involved in throughout this country. Work that is being systematically erased by the ideas implied in his paintings.  To equate conquest and corruption to rape is an act of alienating us from the realities of rape and contributes to making rape seem “unreal”. This is not to say that Zuma isn’t a misogynist and a rapist, but that these images contribute to the violence that is meted out against women who speak out about rape as a whole.

This notion of “art for art’s sake” which prohibits us from judging art from the themes it touches on needs to be disputed. We cannot simply look at the aesthetics or defend the artist’s right to freedom of speech when he is producing such vile images. Surely we deserve better than somebody who has such a narrow, ahistorical view of black people’s bodies, and uses the very tropes that white people use to stereotype black people? His uncritical reproduction of black people as monkeys, the extent to which there is a disregard of rape survivors and the psyche of black people’s trauma is violent. We don’t have to go into how dangerous it is to depict Zuma’s children as monkeys in a country where a black person can be shot and killed for being “mistaken” for a monkey. Black people being seen as monkeys or better yet mandigos also dates back to slavery where slave owners promoted the notion that black people were devilish and animalistic in nature. It has a long dark history.This narrative of blacks as primitive beasts assisted whites in colonising Africa because blacks were and are still seen as uncivilised buffoons who cannot govern themselves. But here is Mabulu using the very same tools to point to the failures of a so called black government, in Africa, for a market that remains largely white.

Mabulu’s work is usually displayed in spaces that remain inaccessible to working class black people thereby triggering blacks who have to view this representation of ourselves with white people in the room. A white art enthusiast buys the painting, yes as we’ve said they are ridiculously expensive and often bought by those who have made their riches through plundering themselves, and hangs this painting on their wall where their dinner party guests will crack jokes about penis sizes and dripping vaginas while enjoying wine. Historically, black men were represented as the boogeyman whoraped and fantasised on killing white women. And black women as wild whores. This was used to justify racism and violence against black people and the lynching that happened during slavery. This continues to this day. You will remember that two years ago in the U.S there was an incident where a young white man Dylann Roof opened fire in a black church, murdering nine black people. Before he started shooting he uttered: “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.” Pause for a minute and consider how representations of the rapey Negro who can’t control his penis made this situation possible. What is made possible by Mabulu’s images? We are in no way isolating Mabulu as doing some novel form of anti blackness through his art; we are merely exposing that he adds to the problem. ‘Freedom of _ _ eech’ was the title of the exhibition, it should have been titled Freedom of Leech. Leeching on the pain of rape survivors andsucking the life out of black women’s work. Furthermore, he suffocates sex workers with judgements and slaps the LGBTI community in the face for relevance. His work forces us to ask, what other kinds of metaphors should black artists be creating for us? Who gets hurt when we ignore this need? Why trigger people and not give them free wine?The exhibition thankfully ended on October 21.

 

 

 

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Talk Is Cheap Until You Talk Black

 

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Text: Rithuli Orleyn

Photograph: Passacol

Nigel Gibson writes on Biko and Fanon. He writes about the value of their thinking tools in the employ of ‘struggles that take their tutelage from below’. Gibson summarizes Marx’s and Hegel dialectics as capable of both progression and regression. He says, giving a kind of pictorial view for his logic, the Hegelian dialectics has a high-point; like an upright triangle – a point where ‘higher unity of two opposed forces’ is reached or forged.

He then continues to say, Marxian dialectics by comparison, resembles an inverted triangle. A triangle with its high-point hanging low. Low, to represent irreconcilable Marxist antagonism that exist between the opposed ‘classes’.

Slavo Zizek, a Slovanian rockstar-like famed philosopher, whose work brings together a reflexive way of reading politics through the windowpane of ideology – cupped in exhaustive Marxian and Lacanian universe of meaning about the socius (or white sociality) – takes a stab at this issue of dialectics. In a book where he interprets Moa’s thought/philosophy (Slavo Zizek – Moa’s Practice and Contradiction), Zizek reads Mao’s dialectics as lacking. Lacking an important aspect of Hegelian tensions of negation. A tension of opposing forces at that high synthesis point (unstable synthesis) – a point Gibson paints for us with a triangle pictorial view. The appreciation Mao lacks, according to this Slovanian philosopher, is the concept called “the negation of the negation”.

According to Zizek, Mao thinks “negation of the negation” is useless sophistry; intellectual farce that has no place in the crucible of praxis. In the material realm, protests Mao, the big fish negates the small fish by swallowing it whole. So do armies when they confront each other in battle; the weaker is negated by the stronger: which is also to say, gets swallowed whole by the stronger. There is no “negation of the negation” in the battle front; the stronger swallows the weaker. Mao protests.

To instantiate Zizek’s point about the value of a Hegelian dialectics in the crucible of praxis, Zizek applies the missing logic – called the “negation of the negation” – in Mao’s reading of true victory.

It is not when ‘big fish subdues small fish’, as Mao is wont to quip, that true victory takes place, argues Zizek. Highlighting Hegelian dialectics and the importance of factoring in the “negation of the negation” Zizek foregrounds the aspect of unstable tension in moments of political loss. Or victory. True political victory, Zizek opines, happens when your enemies are won-over not just by force of arms – for instance – but true victory happens when your enemies adopt your discourse.

Zizek qualifies the explicatory power of his philosophical point by conjuring the example of British politics. The true Thatcherite was not Margaret Thatcher, he says; but Tony Blair, who came on the ticket of labour-centered policies but ended up speaking a pro-capitalist language at its most vulgar form.

Here I cannot help but be reminded of Thabo Mbeki’s own confession; a confession in the face of his cowardice – cowering to neoliberal bullying stick and carrot. He said “call me a Thatcherite”. Those words marked a throw of the towel to GEAR austerity policy measures. Not Zuma. Zuma throws his whole clumsy body of rhetoric.
Recently, after the big brouhaha expose of Jaucques Pauw’s President’s Keepers – a story, among many, of Zuma’s corruption and rot deeply embedded in ANC’s “I didn’t struggle to be poor” culture – Zuma gave a moving and uncharacteristically-Zuma eloquent speech. The non-english-speaking Zuma on the day – a Zuma who spoke in his isiZulu mother tongue – is a rare oratory sight this side of english coloniality denies us the pleasure of seeing. Zuma defied that straightjacket veneer of presidential airs. They (the west) couldn’t countenance communists with nuclear power, when we took power. He said. The snide remarks punted by white-owned media meanandos (meandering-innuendos…Zuma’s brilliant coinage) associating an earmarked nuclear deal between mafias – sitting pretty on government legitimacy tickets (Russian Putin and incumbent president of the republic) – met an airtight family affair :where uBaba took us all (who had ears) to his confidence, in our own tongues. It doesn’t get more cheeky-kaffir (or decolonial proper) than this… the thought lingered much longer on my mind than Mandla Langa’s resurrection of Mandela in his latest Long Walk To Freedom biographical sequel: Dare Not Linger. I suspected that Zuma’s counterpoint view must have grabbed hold on more than just lowly me.

This was the best form of cheeky-kaffir defiance I had seen; since Mandela: admonished De Klerk for training iNkatha undercover – sabotaging the peaceful transition – and then quickly smiling alongside their shared Nobel Peace Prize… before the blood of kids wasted by De Klerk mastermind puppet pulling invisible strings of bullets cooled on their unsuspecting four roomed floor. (Twin brothers Samora and Sadat Mpendulo, 17, cousin Mzwandile Mfeya, 12, and schoolmates Thando Mtembu, 17, and Sandile Yose, 12. Twenty eight times children were shot; at a time the commander in chief of SADF soldiers was De Klerk. Children were massacred in their sleeping in Northcrest, October 1993)

Mbeki’s understanding of both Marx and Fanon, and Afrikanist rhetoric notwithstanding, gave in. He was swallowed in the discourse of a ‘politically conquered’ enemy. The sacrifices of ordinary blacks had earned that political victory moment Thabo squandered. Not only that, two-thirds majority scores of blacks entrusted to Thabo their fears and aspiration for true liberation. To do the historical thing our struggle against colonization has been about. All those gains our people entrusted Thabo with, had been earned by picking the life and limb tab in the battle field. Not Sussex English classroom or lecture halls. But Sussex training got the better of Thabo. It reminds me of Chinweizu when he write about dangers of colonial miseducation: if you socialize a mouse like a cat, say, among well-behaved cats, you kill its survival instinct… when you put it out there in the world, of not-so-well-behaved cats, when it’s supposed to flee from the predator, it walks to it, in over-familiar friendly gait, I imagine (paraphrased).
Taking counsel from the Slavanian philosopher: The buzz word for that phenomenon of finding yourself in power – like Thabo – (perhaps your team having pushed the enemy to cede ground), in power but using the power you gained over your enemies to freely grant them (your down and out enemies) a landslide victory in their already declared defeat, as the ANC did by not exhausting the political victory lifeline, instead ceding more uneven playground by granting the enemy Sunset Clauses to entrench their last kicks of a dying horse corruption culture, that phenomenon, typifies a “negation of the negation”. It signifies a moment where your ‘politically conquered’ enemies flip the script on you. And now you become the face of corruption. Like Zuma is. And Paul Kruger is not. Yet “One of President [Paul] Kruger’s three sons was his private secretary. A son-in-law of his, C.F. Eloff, was a businessman who was granted several (government) concessions, namely business monopolies of one kind or another” (Hennie van Vuuren, 2006: 31) That’s if we can agree that in 1994 we ‘politically’ won in the ballot booth; though ‘economically’ lost, at the negotiation table.

Zizek’s point concerning the unstable victory of being engulfed (or conquered) by the culture of your vanquished enemies is: the kind of capitalism we see in China today is what it is, vulgar exploitative, because of how it subverts Mao’s cultivated but failed cultural revolution.

It rides on that fertile soil of cultivation in order for it to be aggressive and vulgar exploitative, as it is.

Workers there, in China, charges the Marxian-Lacanian Slovenian thinker, are expropriated of their labour power with little to no human right consideration. Because, he says: they are slave-driven to sweatshop-vulnerability by the stick and carrot affect of patriotism.

In Zuma’s eloquent isiZulu speech recently, I heard this nuanced jump-the-gun patriotism. A patriotism to words – ‘Communist China’ rhetoric-like. The west took nuclear power capabilities from us when we came to government because the west couldn’t countenance communist with nuclear. Okay-Malum’-Cool-Cat, the west did clip the kaffir-government its nuclear-wings. But in twenty years you have dug your people deeper into poverty; at least the racists Afrikanner Broedebond had much better outcomes in their socialist corruption: by 1970s – even if through ‘crime against humanity’ brute force and draconian laws – they had achieved their mission of alleviating Afrikaner poverty.

But what Zuma wants us to believe and put our lives in the line of fire for is rhetoric in the employ of capitalists. A rhetoric not steeped in the values of the people. It is a rhetoric that ‘speaks at’ – rather than with – people who have the sovereign title to ownership of this land. The people who must say – as opposed to being ‘spoken-for’ – how they see fit to heal their (our) hundred-years cultural injuries, psychological injuries, loss of personality injuries, amputated self-reliance injuries, knowledge systems diminished injuries, and spiritual injuries …  by taking back our source of healing – the land.

I shuddered at the thought of how close we are too to being cajoled, arm-twisted, by Zuma’s “radical” sounding promises of “transformation” and nuclear power. Nuclear would be great. If there were more than dynastic power signs in Zuma’s line of march; if he broke fundamentally from the insult that is the Constitution (but the ANC prides itself for brokering land heist in a bill of rights paperback).
It seems to me that the adoption of ANC policy, the peddled “radical economic transformation”, by Bikoist rhetoric-prone comrades who root for Zuma with more than a tinge of uncritical pigmentationism and unprincipled blackist-unity, is a slippery slope. Towards being discursively swallowed. Swallowed in a dying ANC. An ANC that should be allowed to die, from its internally raging decay.

In an approach that suspends other contradictions (arguing that there is a Nationalist vs Imperialist main contradiction, at this conjuncture), it seems that our Black Consciousness comrades have turned crass pigmentationist for rice (biryani). It seem they have taken up the cause to champion certain favoured ANC factions; without paying attention to their equivalent of “call me Thatcherite”… “negation of the negation” pitfalls.

In their vulgar Nationalism (represented by Zuma at the helm) against Imperialism (represented by the so called London-gang ANC faction….plus the ANC-lite in red berets), it appears that the dying ANC will take to the grave the credibility, the integrity and ethos that propels true “radical” discourse.

My caution, within the limitations of white philosophers (Gibson’s Hegel, Zizek’s Marx and Lacan and Chinese thinkers and activists), my caution is: perhaps we (the hands-off-Zuma Biko clique) went too deep into the enemy’s terrain. I caution that perhaps in expediently sleeping with this colonial lapdog called the ANC, we should guard against waking up with its flees. Better still I say, there once was a time we wrestled their little “radical” sounding pig, Juju, in the mud with People’s Manifesto and Sankarist Oaths. Perhaps we should be careful not to repeat the same. Careful to craft Zuma’s “radical” rhetoric in the image of our desire, just because he sometimes fires his pro-capitalist aids to hire others.
Careful to project our wet dream (of ‘revolution’) without theorizing or learning from our failures. Careful to project our wishes without learning to fail-forward, fail-safer, fail-closer to the social upheaval and insurrection prize; closer to that handmaiden prerequisite: the fall of South Africa and rise of Azania (from ashes of South African destruction).

(I hold the view that there are progressive failures. Like Mandela’s wrongs of reconciliation without justice. Our failed Black Consciousness experiment with Juju’s EFF is one such naiveté about radical sounding ANC-cultured leaders. We cannot rush to align our Black Consciousness with ‘radical’ sounding ANC-cultured collaborators).
So I would say, the real benefit of a Zuma-moment, is how it unearths the buried – the buried in the silence of things. How it trades-in the tyranny of peace for a necessary chaos – a creative chaos to help us imagine afresh. How it uses the small-fish gangster as a magnifying glass to see the invisible hand of the Bigfish mafia… the land dispossessor. How it presents, or foregrounds, the black-white antagonism in ways more poignant than has been the case in previous post’94 instances of Thabo and Mandela combined.

The ‘Zuma moment’, especially because white arrogance – this time around (#BlackMondayCampaigns) – is greedy to punish Zuma. Punish Zuma so that it can thinly veil its sins of racism behind Zuma’s 789 ‘criminal’ charges (whatever calculus is employed to count sins of a bogeyman like Zuma. Or me and you).

This Zuma-moment reminds me of Tony Yengeni. Long time ago, when SPCA’s totalizing white attitudes concretized against Yengeni for contravention of his parole condition, there was a similar shadow cast by our historical-hanging cloud of white racism.

You see, because: the hundred-years-long injuries of racism makes the slightest provocation capable of bringing the world – as we know it – to its grinding halt … if the contradictions are correctly harnessed and analyzed.

Yengeni’s biggest mistake was to come out of jail on parole and go ayohlabela amadlozi. He went and slaughtered a cow in keeping with his tradition. And of course this – barbaric black cleansing ritual (white people being white people and arrogant, boasting laws more considerate to animals than our kaffir consideration for animals can ever be), this – ‘hlabel’ amadlozi event’, was only seen through the ‘eyes of the law’ by white norm. It was seen as contravention of legal procedures. For someone out on parole, with conditionalities to adhere to, white-or-colonial-law could only see one thing: its own single narrative. Being gatvol of this single-narrative foreclosure, blacks became inspired to cause an uproar that swept across the country.

Media loved to hate Yengeni. And in keeping with rampant attitudes that say ‘well to do blacks’ thieve the public purse, through political favours and connections, the media didn’t know how black people flipped and disregarded the media’s dominant narrative; to embrace Yengeni. Regardless of the corruption flack. The media couldn’t appreciate that: though black people know that the Yengeni brigade in the ANC ba-hustle-isha ngathi, we still share with those hustlers wounds inflicted indiscriminately on us by white racism – because we are Black. And that is not to be used to qualify Zuma’s hustle as “radical” transformation.

(The hustling phenomenon in the ANC is not only undeniable but resembles white network ethos of grand pillaging – eating up the state resources by corrupt means).

Against such SPCA white assumptions, about who we are (savages who are inhumane to poor animals) and how we must conduct ourselves, pertaining cultural practices, the blacks told whites where to get off.

Now back to Zuma’s predatory kaffir-cheekiness. It evokes similar solidarity sentiments we saw club blacks around their ontological wound of racism – our “lived for-consciousness experience”.

Perhaps the cabinet and presidency arena, where this black solidarity sentiment against white bullying plays out, marks the difference between the Zuma moment and the erstwhile Yengeni uproar

White people didn’t know what hit them when they tried to bully Yengeni with some logic of their law. A similar solidarity sentiment (with Yengeni against white bullying) seems to have grabbed hold. But our solidarity against whites cannot mean narrativizing Zuma, in this instance, as a nationalist. Zuma is a cheeky matjingilane of white ill-gotten wealth. He has been waiting for his struggle-credential ration. But the ration rules ‘unfairly’ changed when it was him at the front of the line. So he sommer went ahead without authorized white permission to help himself to the buffet. Zuma is not a nationalist by any stretch of imagination. For god sake even by white standards of what a nation is, we blacks don’t make the cut. We don’t have Sovereign Title To Territory. That Sovereign Title To Territory is enshrined in the constitution as the right of white conquest over grabbed property – our land.

Even as we speak, Zuma presides on shooting destitute people of Freedom Park in Johannesburg; mothers who want to erect shelter for their children. The irony of shooting people who want to build a lousy shelter whilst you live at a palace in Nkandla… imagine (the negation – by bullets, of the negated – by Blackness)!