Goldendean – Queer love, Queer dissidence and the undoing of whiteness - Photograph by  - Jamal Nxedlana
Photograph by Jamal Nxedlana

Goldendean – Queer love, Queer dissidence and the undoing of whiteness

Much like gold itself, the spectacle of Goldendean challenges the arbitrary values we place on the normative body. Our gaze cannot help but devour Goldendean.

In 2016 artist Dean Hutton’s #FUCKWHITEPEOPLE performance went notoriously viral which has extended itself into various forms– an installation, a ‘Fuck White People’ suit, an online archive titled, ‘White People made Visible’. Dean’s message is one of ‘queer love’, ‘queer dissidence’ and ‘radical sharing’ (coined by Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi), promoted by their avatar Goldendean who takes on the role of a clown like figure. ‘PLAN B, A GATHERING OF STRANGERS (OR) THIS IS NOT WORKING’, Dean’s Master’s thesis completed towards their MA in Fine Arts from Michaelis becomes a manual to understanding the serious and complex reasonings of an artist who hopes to heal with their practice.

Public space is the stage for breaking the fourth wall. Preoccupied with its intervention they attempt to make public space safer through artist led creation, mentorship and community organization. These acts are performed as “…South African people don’t feel any kind of ownership to public space because public space particularly in South Africa, because of apartheid’s spatial planning intended to disempower people, making the effects of power particularly obvious in public space.” Their performances act to remind people that they are the public and that space is made for the gathering of people and to remind people of “both the personal and collective power they hold.”

With an intense interest in the notion of play inspired by artists such as Anthea Moys and Lindiwe Matshikiza, they hope to bring joy and laughter back into public spaces. Despite the serious nature and intent of a lot of their creative expression, Dean explains that it is important for the work to maintain humour­– “it is strangely not picked up very often in my ‘Fuck white people’ performance and my Goldendean performances which somehow, people don’t really pick up the kind of curious, clownish behaviour that I was exhibiting and it felt like people took it very seriously…”. Serious as it is, the artist expresses that one of the most destabilising effects to power is that of laughter and the ability of people to laugh at themselves.

“You must remember that throughout history healers and artists were the same people.” Viewing themselves as a healer, Dean’s work pivots around the act of community healing and self-healing (self-care). This approach to self-care is not only used as a way of soothing personal trauma but as a means of understanding their existence in the world and their legacy­– an exercise they have been concerned with from a tender age. Reflecting on what they will leave behind in this world they express the hope to spread their healing, love and desire for social justice to others.

In their thesis, it is expresses that Goldendean is a golden calf. Although much of their work originates from a necessity of anger their thought process then is to think about what is amiss in our public engagement with one another. Their research attempts to understand the meaning of being a white South African at a time of decolonization. “Can the avatar be an altar to sacrifice whiteness?”

They ask, “What are the responsibilities of white people? Our bodies as white colonial settler bodies? We forget that many of us were kind of shipped off on this colonial conquest to lead the violence against black, brown indigenous bodies and that has left wounds and triggers very much active in our everyday interactions with people and I think it is something that particularly came to light in the student movement. Where literally white bodies became triggers and reminders of the everyday violence of settler colonialism. It is trying to understand who we are beyond our own preconceptions of guilt or these kinds of burdens that we rightfully carry as people existing on stolen land and asking, what is the price of the space we take up in these conversations?”

“I don’t think that there is any point in white bodies seeking some kind of annihilation or a kind of retreating into the abject because then it is just another way of calling attention to us in ways that we are not necessarily dealing with the history of what we represent.” The work then looks at finding new ways of being and seeks creative solutions to deep human pain, ways of lessening the burden of the white presence on the continent and looking to contribute to conversations of social justice.

For some, their first encounter with Dean and or Goldendean came about through whitelash from the Cape Party who sought a judgement against their artwork from the Equality Court. The work was displayed in the Iziko National Gallery featuring boldly the words: “FUCK WHITE PEOPLE” over and over. It could also be read as “WHITE PEOPLE FUCK” etc. Many white people– as has been not only my observation but that of many others– become defensive when confronted with their whiteness, deeming these thoughts as acts of hate speech and ‘reverse racism’. This is where their engagement stops– instead of critically reflecting on what the artist’s intent could be with such a statement investigating white privilege, (which many white South Africans will still deny exists) this group of people will act violently in a number of ways making use of various modes of defence. Outward emotions such as fear, anger and guilt arise and follow behaviours such as silence, argumentation, leaving situations that induce this stress of white surveillance (DiAngelo sited from Dean’s thesis). DiAngelo continues to say that such behaviours function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.

Interesting; as Chief Magistrate DM Thulare points out in the judgement [9], the artist’s intention was displayed right next to the artwork explaining why they did what they did, and this was readily available for anyone to read taking the time to view the work. It is also important to note that this body of work formed a part of the show The Art of Disruptions and as the title would suggest, the aim of the exhibition was to collect and create dialogue; to disrupt. An extract from the show as per the Equality Court ruling reads:

At its core, the exhibition is intended to create dialogue. Guests to the exhibition will be presented with an opportunity to have their say and participate in further disruptions.

The Cape Party ironically, (considering their political aims) decided to enter the gallery, deface the artwork with a sticker that reads ‘Love thy neighbour’ and assault Iziko Gallery employees attempting to protect the artwork. Proud of their handiwork the party filmed their violence and uploaded it onto YouTube. The YouTube link shows savage commentary attacking Dean on a number of levels, from race to gender identity and expresses various threats towards them.

As you should know, Magistrate Thulare found that the piece was not hate speech and fulfilled the artist’s intent of “dismantling the systems of power that keep white people racist”. #FUCKWHITEPEOPLE is in essence a healing exercise that becomes more evident especially in the more aggressive responses that the artist received– these individuals were engaging creatively with the work through the hate mail they sent. Crude memes, drawings and responding artworks of hatred still make use of the aesthetic Dean proposed with the work and unwillingly, these shares are spreading their message; radical sharing via the internet. Dean considers #FUCKWHITEPEOPLE not as an original work but an idea lent from Zama Mthunzi and an experiment into seeing what would happen when a white body carried these words marked on their clothing.

The irony of #FUCKWHITEPEOPLE lay in what Dean unpacks in their thesis when they say that “a performance artist’s likeness is not raw material but self-consciously constructed art” a point that documentarians don’t quite seem to fully grasp. As a performance artist, the individual loses control of the contexts in which their likeness is reproduced and as such many white nationalists made use of their image as a way to further narratives of white genocide– what they fail to notice is that regardless of how they choose to use the aesthetics imposed by Dean they are spreading Dean’s message which aims to undo whiteness and find different ways of being into digital spaces Dean would otherwise not have access to. As Dean expresses in the methodology of PLAN B, “social media is another performance space in which live actions continue to reverberate”. In sharing this abrasive imagery, it becomes an act for good.

In the aftermath of this performance piece, Dean feels that there will never be a point again in which they are completely safe. Hate mail, physical attempts of intimidation in public­– they have significantly reduced their public presence in spaces such as Cape Town where they are hyper visible. “I can’t hide my body. There is no pair of sunglasses and a wig that’s going to make me unrecognizable because of the nature of my fat body. I don’t think my life will ever be the same but you know the thing is this work, it might have blown up beyond any kind of real sane response.”

“…it’s a lifelong project and my intentions of continuing the destruction of the white identity and the problematics of the settler colonial body on stolen land will continue. It is a part of who I am, I am the same person as the child that questioned the problematic behaviours of my family during apartheid. Those things won’t change for me, this is who I am. The hate of the many will never destroy the love of the few. I have had incredible support in a lot of personal ways from people, understandably it is hard for people to publically stand with me because of the threats of violence. But I have received far more support as an artist and as a humxn being, as a queer person as a friend from so many people and I am constantly encouraged by those expressions of love, and those expressions of love have always been there. They’re just far more personal and louder than the loud cries of angry disillusioned people.”

#FUCKWHITEPEOPLE fulfils the role of political art and was able to bring the very problematic nature of whiteness under surveillance. It reiterated the power of white people and their insistence on narratives of victimhood. Alleging that it is ‘reverse racism’ erases broader social contexts of legislated and institutionalised racism that has developed as a result of slavery, colonialism, exploitative labour practices and apartheid that built us modern day Capitalism. Dean fights for social justice asking how white South Africans can find more constructive ways of being on the continent and attempts to improve public space while spreading queer love and radical sharing. What Goldendean accomplishes is queering the expectations of the white body.

Credits:

Photography: Jamal Nxedlana

Makeup Art: Orli Meiri

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