That’s What She Said – An exhibition by women for women

Collective mourning, one might call it. When grief overwhelms, congeals. Beyond the incessant waves of anger are the depths of pain. A whisper once murmured reverberates into a crescendo of, femicide is a fucking reality: Uyinene Mrwetyana, Jesse Hess, Leighandre Jegels, Janika Mallo, Lynette Volschenk, Meghan Cremer and countless others buried beneath name-less statistics.

In the wake of these murders I stood disillusioned and in despair in the historic Women’s Jail at Constitutional Hill. In the light-filled atrium echoes filled the space of dark memories. Adjacent on display in the east and west wings is ‘That’s What She Said’ – an exhibition of womxn: Jill Trappler, Malebona Maphutse, Mbali Tshabalala, Yvette Hess, Xia Cweba, Julia Drouhin, Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi and Judith Westerveld. Inspired by a series of talks and interviews of womxn artists in the art industry which, “has not only created a temporary community of witnesses; it has also resulted in an archive of women’s narratives”.

Prompted by the lack of space for womxn, the research project started three years ago by VANSA, followed by the talk series which centred writers, curators, arts practitioners and artists, “to create a framework for discussion on archiving, the visual arts landscape, the curatorial space, blackness, creativity and womanhood”. Curated by Siya Cweba – in partnership with Sematsatsa Library and Constitutional Hill – many of the works on display are visually abstracted, but through their titles present a position of resistance.

One of the most poignant moments of the exhibition was reading the account of Sarah Semetlana, a ‘pass offender’ in 1981 which read: We only saw the sun in the afternoon…juxtapose with Jill Trappler’s Dusk (2015) in the next room. A palimpsest of imprisonment layered with gossamer silk in soothing sunset tones. Overall the exhibition feels like a step in a process rather than a concluding thought. However, the connection made me think through how we begin to honour the lives lost at the hands of men beyond a 24-hour news cycle. Perhaps we are in dusk, with the light fading fast and the imminent threat of darkness approaching

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