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Photography by Nhlakanipho Nhlapo

Muse: exploring female agency in art

Real quick, grab a dictionary or google search the word “muse”. What came up? Something about a woman being the source of creative inspiration? Or maybe something about a he pondering about a she? Well, the word “muse” has been foundational to art and in turn male artists hold females as their source of creative genius. Think about it, how many masterpieces are there of women by men? Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman or Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, the list is actually endless. So isn’t it ironic that two men, Odendaal Estherhuyse and Ramoloti Kganakga, decided to curate an exhibition called, MUSE: exploring female agency in art?

Odendaal and Ramoloti deeply interrogated their male privilege as creative men and the ease in which they consciously and unconsciously assume a sense of control when representing women. During this process of interrogation, there was a realisation that women are not overtly afforded the same creative assertiveness as men. Odendaal and Ramoloti developed the idea of showcasing black female artists and teamed up with Vuyiswa Xekatwane for much needed black girl guidance.

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The collaborative effort resulted in an exhibition that showcased the work of black female artists: Tshepiso Mabula, Puleng Mongale, Boitumleo Mazibuko, Nozipho Nxele and Rita Kantu in Braamfontein on 2 March.

Odendaal explained how the Western ideals of the word “muse” differ in the mind of a black South African woman and in the African context too. This exhibition showcased the creative expression of black female artists and how their creative inspirations definitely differed from the ideals of the West. Moreover, the art spoke of the experience of  black women by black women. A space was created for black women to express themselves and be at the centre of  their narrative. This space also afforded men the opportunity to engage and experience the power of female agency in art.

The artists are all Umuzi recruits and Alumni. Odendaal, Ramoloti and Vuyiswa too are part of Umuzi. Umuzi is a creative organisation that aims to transform the creative industry with its learnership that improves the access to creative education and careers.

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