Imaginative acts of photographic of self-representation as a critical response to representations of the black male body in South African photography

Kama, Lunga (2014-04)

Thesis(MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The first part of this thesis discusses some of the problematic photographic practices that form part of the modern visual discourse employed in defining the representation of the black man in South African photography. The aim of this thesis is to critically investigate the visual discourse in contemporary South African photography and to outline the inherent flaws whereby the black male subject is represented according to racial stereotypes inherited from the photographic conventions of colonial discourse. The purpose of this is to investigate my own photographic practice by drawing a critical comparison with the works of German photographer Gustav Theodor Fritsch (b.1834-1927), South African photographers Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin (b.1874-1954), the Caney brothers (1844-1899), Steve Hilton-Barber (b.1962-2002), Pieter Hugo (b.1976-), Zanele Muholi (b.1972-) and Zwelethu Mthethwa (b.1960-), and Nigerian-born British photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayode (b.1955-1989). My argument is centred around the discussion of these photographer’s works and the visual impact on the manner in which the black subject is portrayed as a ‘noble savage’. The predominant visual representation of the black body in South African photography perpetuates the kinds of discourse that rely on anthropological photographic methods of representation. I argue that where the depiction of the black male body is concerned, a number of contemporary South African photographers mentioned in this thesis continue to unconsciously appropriate a colonial discourse wherein the body of the black man is cast in the exotic role of ‘noble savage’ with extreme attributes regarding sex and gender, either as extremely ‘effeminate’ or, alternatively, as ‘hyper-masculine’ and exuding a ‘raw’ sexual prowess (Read, 1996:64). The work that I create and my photographic practices utilise some of the abovementioned artists’ problematical visual devices in order to subvert them but also to create an alternate perception of black representation. In the second chapter of this thesis, I critically evaluate the work of Rotimi Fani-Kayode as a strategy to employ alternate means of visual representation of the black body in order to critically re-evaluate the work of contemporary South African artists in their depiction of the black male body through either studio photography or documentary photography. The aim is to point out imaginative forms of representation as an alternative to either of the two modes of photography mentioned above. The argument then aims to put emphasis on acts of imaginative self-representation, a contemporary mode in photographic art practice made popular by Rotimi Fani-Kayode. Imaginative self-representation involves “the ritualistic transformation of the colonial imagery into creations of our own” as black artists in order to subvert the dominant discourses on representations of the black body (Fani-Kayode, 1997:6). This is just one of the important strategies used by the artists mentioned in this thesis to critique black sexuality. My works and practices draw their influence from the discourses that dominate the contemporary discourse on the representation of the black body. My argument looks at stereotypical forms of photographic practice and critiques the problematical construct of such representations of black male sexuality. The purpose is to expose some of the Western principles that seek to regulate and control the black body. My own practice focuses on creating works of art that form part of my cultural and historical background. Sexuality and gender are discussed in the third part of this thesis as a means to outline my own photographic practice and its influences. The third chapter investigates the masculinity of the black subject through a discussion of sexuality and gender performativity. In this chapter, gender proves to be a performative, unlike some of the essentialist assumptions made about how sexuality and gender are unchanging. A visual mechanism that seeks to critically question racist representations of black sexuality such as drag and performativity is applied in the construction of affirmative imagery of black masculinity. The final chapter of the thesis focuses on my own work as an example of imaginative forms of self-representation. The first, second and third parts of the argument serve to provide a theoretical framework in which to situate my own practice.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis bespreek van die problematiese fotografiepraktyke wat deel uitmaak van die visuele diskoers waarvolgens die swart man in Suid-Afrikaanse fotografie uitgebeeld word. Die doel van die tesis is die kritiese ondersoek van die visuele diskoers in kontemporêre Suid-Afrikaanse fotografie, en die blootlegging van die inherente leemtes waarin die swart manlike subjek uitgebeeld word volgens rassestereotipes wat uit fotografie gebruike van die koloniale diskoers spruit. Die oogmerk is om my eie fotografiese praktyk te verken deur ’n kritiese vergelyking te tref met die werk van die Duitse fotograaf Gustav Theodor Fritsch (b.1834–1927); die Suid-Afrikaners Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin (b.1874-1954), die Caneybroers (1844-1899), Steve Hilton-Barber (b.1962-2002), Pieter Hugo(b.1976-), Zanele Muholi (b.1972-) en Zwelethu Mthethwa (b.1960-), en die Britse fotograaf Rotimi Fani- Kayode (1955-1989), ’n Nigeriër van geboorte. ). My argument is gesentreer rondom die bespreking van hierdie fotograaf se werke en die visuele impak op die wyse waarop die swart onderwerp word uitgebeeld as 'n 'edel barbaar ". Die visuele voorstelling van die swart liggaam in Suid-Afrikaanse fotografie is hoofsaaklik ’n voortsetting van die soort diskoerse wat op antropologiese fotografiese uitbeeldingsmetodes berus. Ek voer aan dat, wat die uitbeelding van die swart manlike liggaam betref, ’n paar kontemporêre Suid-Afrikaanse fotograwe wat in hierdie tesis ter sprake kom, steeds onbewustelik ’n koloniale diskoers handhaaf wat die eksotiese rol van ‘edel barbaar’ met uiterste geslags- en genderkenmerke – hetsy uiters ‘vroulik’ of ‘hipermanlik’ met ’n ‘rou’ seksuele manhaftigheid (Read, 1996:64) – aan die swart man toeken. In my eie werk en fotografiepraktyke het ek van bogenoemde kunstenaars se problematiese visuele middele gebruik gemaak, nie net om dit bloot te lê nie, maar ook om ’n alternatiewe opvatting van ‘swart’ uitbeelding te skep. In die tweede hoofstuk van die tesis gebruik ek alternatiewe metodes om die swart liggaam visueel uit te beeld in ’n kritiese herbeoordeling van die werk van kontemporêre Suid- Afrikaanse kunstenaars wat die swart manlike liggaam deur hetsy ateljeefotografie of dokumentêre fotografie voorstel. Sodoende verskuif die klem na verbeeldingryke vorme van uitbeelding as alternatief vir bogenoemde twee vorme van fotografie. Daarná val die soeklig op handelinge van verbeeldingryke selfvoorstelling – ’n kontemporêre metode in fotografiese kunspraktyk wat deur Rotimi Fani-Kayode gewild gemaak is. Verbeeldingryke selfvoorstelling behels “die rituele transformasie van koloniale beelde tot ons eie skeppings” as swart kunstenaars, ten einde die oorheersende diskoerse oor die uitbeelding van die swart liggaam omver te werp (Fani-Kayode, 1997:6). Dít is bloot een van die belangrike strategieë wat die kunstenaars in hierdie tesis gebruik om op swart seksualiteit kritiek te lewer. My werk en praktyk word beïnvloed deur die oorheersende kontemporêre diskoerse oor die voorstelling van die swart liggaam. In my argument bestudeer ek stereotiepe vorme van fotografiese praktyk, en lewer ek kritiek op die problematiese konstruk van sodanige voorstellings van swart manlike seksualiteit. Sodoende word sommige van die Westerse beginsels wat die swart liggaam wil reguleer en beheer aan die lig gebring. My eie praktyk konsentreer op die produksie van kunswerke wat deel uitmaak van my kulturele en historiese agtergrond. Deel 3 van die tesis ondersoek seksualiteit en gender ten einde my eie fotografiepraktyk, én die faktore wat dit beïnvloed, te omskryf. Die derde hoofstuk ondersoek die manlikheid van die swart subjek deur ’n bespreking van seksualiteit en gender performatiwiteit. Uit hierdie hoofstuk blyk dit dat gender as performatief verskil van die essensialistiese aannames oor die onveranderlike aard van seksualiteit en gender. Visuele meganismes om rassistiese voorstellings van swart seksualiteit te bevraagteken, soos fopdossery en performatiwiteit, word toegepas in die konstruksie van bevestigende beelde van swart manlikheid. Die laaste hoofstuk van die tesis konsentreer op my eie werk as voorbeeld van verbeeldingryke vorme van selfvoorstelling. Gesamentlik dien die drie dele van die argument as teoretiese raamwerk waarin my eie praktyk geplaas kan word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/86412
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