The questioning of identity has been of one the most conflicted themes in art throughout the centuries. Artists have used sculptures to depict the ideal human form, portraits of society to depict the social milieu in which they find themselves and protest posters to free themselves from bound identities. Fried Contemporary's current exhibition entitled Me 1, which opened on 4 August, explores the view of our identities in today’s contemporary South African society. The exhibition includes works by Johan Thom, Senzeni Marasela, Lionel Smit, Rozan Cochrane, Bongi Bengu, Oliver Mayhew and Jayne Crawshay-Hall who explore the theme of identity through different contexts.
The self-reflexivity presented in these works’ exploration of identity has been a pertinent theoretical issue since modernism and carried over into post-modern culture present today. The works aim to explore identity through the personal perceptions of the artists themselves. Senzeni Marasela and Bongi Bengu explore their identities as black women and black artists. Marasela explores a re-look at the exploitation of Africans in the colonialist era through Saartije Baartman, using new modern ways to depict the black female form.
Oliver Mayhew, explores his own South African identity within the political landscape in South Africa today. His work forces gallery goers to walk over a linoleum welcome mat as they enter the gallery and their acts recorded on a CCTV camera. The work seeks to question society's conforming of certain identities into categories as well as our disregard for our culture where we essentially 'walk over' traditions and beliefs in favour of a globalised identity. The camera serves to show how each person has their own conception of identity in the way they view themselves through the camera. Mayhew states that "even if our conception of an appropriate South African identity is different; the process of forming an identity should be parallel to the common understanding of South African identity."
The exhibition aims to entice the viewer into questioning his views of identity in order to understand the self fully. Lionel Smit's works explore portraits of people who possess a particular aesthetic appeal to his visual sensitivity but have an essential social influence in society. His paintings offer a means to express identity as well as the abstract exploration of the canvas as a signifier of identity.
Johan Thom's installation, Flow
Video installations by Johan Thom explore misconceptions of identity through social norms and beliefs. Thom is one of the only practicing full time performance artists in South Africa. His works are created in various public urban contexts ranging from parks, cultural museums, galleries, bustling, urban streets and his personal home. The works often draw from his personal experience of everyday life in South Africa. His works are created in various public urban contexts ranging from parks, cultural museums, galleries, bustling, urban streets and his personal home. It often draws from his personal experience of everyday life in South Africa. Flow (2010), an installation of two screens mounted on the gallery floor sees Thom explore the conception of male and female identities.
Portraits are often used in order to express the self whether realistic depictions or flattering renderings. In Ancient Greece and Rome, portrait sitters demanded individualized and realistic portraits, even unflattering ones. Rozan Cochrane creates miniature portraits using form and filtered light enlarged on various surfaces relating to "the metaphor of the self onto which one is able to impose their own perception of the world". The shadows of the faces are haunting, distorted faces of people she knows exploring how we relate our identities to the people around us.
Jayne Crawshay-Hall, curator of the exhibition, creates portraits of well-known personalities in an unconventional rendering of the canvas. The viewer is given an interesting perspective where the faces are only recognized from a distance and the detail intrinsically worked through the bubble wrap which essentially 'packages' the identity of the person portrayed. Me 1 shows identity as a reflection of the self, how we as humans think, feel, believe, behave and relate.
Photographs by Rupert de Beer.