Lebogang Mabusela’s Ukwatile? | Who is safe to violate? - Bubblegum Club

Lebogang Mabusela’s Ukwatile? | Who is safe to violate?

If I had access to someone at the offices of Google or Meta, I would have asked them to track how many people — how many men — had snapped images of Lebogang Mogul Mabusela’s work, put it on social media with a hashtag and some random non-contextual remark without taking responsibility for their own complicity in the conditions that necessitated the work. I spent many strange days thinking about all of these men who might have visited the exhibition Ukwatile? and recognised (or failed to recognise) themselves in the work. The narrative that only certain types of men — perhaps bound by race or class — participate in rape culture is a falsity. There are many different types of “my size”, “yo baby” and “mamakhes” who have a very real and vested interest in wasting a womxn’s time.


Lebogang Mabusela, Ukwatile; 2022

Staged at Stevenson in Johannesburg, Ukwatile? is a reflection of navigating a patriarchal and misogynistic world. Mabusela uses prints, drawings and sculptures to explore catcalling and rape culture that remains rampant on the streets of South Africa. Figures of creepy men in turtlenecks and sunglasses stand in for the harsh and often dangerous realities tied to womxn’s mobility. The satire contained in the works produces the same eerie feelings of familiarity and disorientation that occur when one is catcalled on the street — it’s not just irritation but a real fear of knowing the power that the catcaller holds and how that can have serious consequences.

As I write this, I can’t help reflecting on an encounter I had on the streets with a young man, a boy really, ten years my junior probably. He saw me walking down the street, walked up to me and asked me “what’s wrong?”. I guess I was in a mood to entertain – buffoonery or clownery – because I responded “I’m tired” – hoping that my fake tiredness would repel him or at least function as a friendly gesture to tell him to fuck off. He then proceeded to lecture me about how I can’t possibly be tired and had the audacity to warn me that, “I hope you don’t think just because you’re silent I’ll walk away.” That’s precisely what I was hoping for and it’s a grim world that this is my prayer!

Lebogang Mabusela, Awufuni?; 2021

Author Pumla Dineo Gqola gave us incredibly useful language to reconsider and disrupt cultures of sexual violence in her books “Rape” and “Female Fear Factory”. Gqola articulates the female fear factory as, “a performance of patriarchal policing of and violence towards women and others cast female, who are therefore considered safe to violate”. Within this context of “safe to violate” the labour of creating safety for womxn continues to fall on womxn — firstly as the attempt to keep oneself safe at home, in the workplace and on the streets, secondly as the creative labour of artists, writers, thinkers and activists who continually pour efforts into ending this scourge.  Imagine how productive and joyful we would be if we were not constantly looking over our shoulders or constantly called upon to perform this labour.

And so, as a momentary and imperfect attempt at refusal I want to spend some time thinking about the formal qualities of Mabusela’s artistry outside of its conceptual weight. In its entirety the exhibition Ukwatile? achieves a beautiful visual rhythmic tempo. The artist succeeds in using scale, gradation, and various accents to create sensual images that are pleasurable to look at — a kind of freeform and loose mode of making that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s also something really lovely about seeing simple materials, such as paper and vinyl doily, transformed into gorgeous sculptures. Compositionally Ukwatile? reads as an interesting continuation of Mabusela’s interests in exploring strategies for safety reflected in her bridal gift shop offering a range of tools and technologies to fight the patriarchy.

Ukwatile? is on view until the 20th August.

Lebogang Mabusela, Yo Baby; 2021

Lebogang Mabusela, Inwele zakho; 2021



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