The creative duo, KNeo & Micha from Cape Town’s latest project titled ‘Portraits of South African Masculinities’ acts as an exploration of the shifting yet contested gender plateau prevalent in South Africa. The project takes on the form of a photographic essay accompanied by quoted reflections from the gender-based writings of Bell Hooks, Kopano Ratele, Nigel Patel as well as broader radical queer theory. In their collaborative team Micha takes on the role of photographer, creative director and visual concept designer while KNeo acts as the theoretical concept designer, writer and editor. When their minds meet in this organic match they create photographic journal magazines and concept photography.
Gender is performative they state with practices or rituals and scripted choreographies which divide gender and label how men are to perform certain acts, what they should and shouldn’t like and how a man should dress etc. Thus how masculinity should be enacted.
“…More and more, artists and queers are taking up space, creating platforms for themselves to contest gender practices, more and more creatives are documenting how gender-fluidity and nonconformist gender is becoming more visible. In this feedback loop, where the Cape Town community is being shown to itself, more people feel free to change their gender practices, feel encouraged by what they are seeing, while others see it as an assault and want to manage and police gender practices more firmly.”
“…this dominant queer monoculture is becoming the single image to which all other queers are measure[d] and judged…” The aim of the project then “We wanted to look at the ways Cape Town’s masculine practices, with all of the divergent and overlapping streams of identities going every which way, are evolving, unfolding, and responding to queerness, to feminism, to activism, to class, to education, to water, to time.”
Unpacking the way in which this project challenges notions of masculinity they state that their hope was to allow their models to define the way in which they are viewed. The images then are either exaggerated and caricature-like in nature and symbolise thereby the way in which society views them while other images act as defiance of gender norms and are a hope to be seen differently. The desire of the project is a focus on queer masculinities that do not form a part of the dominant queer monoculture.
“‘I am [more] convinced today than I was when I started talking to men that capitalist patriarchy, which is globally hegemonic and works in tandem with racism, and has both white and black supporters, poses the most significant threat to the well-being of boys, men, society and the environment.”’ – Kopano Ratele
“We hope this project inspires critical reflections on the quality and purpose of gender in our society. We hope people will see themselves anew through these images and begin contesting gender inequality and be more critical with their own gender discourse and practice. We hope this project will celebrate and make visible identities, especially queer identities, that exist outside the dominant and popular gender imagination.”
The project encapsulates the voice of the writers sited and concludes that the effects of patriarchy on men, queer men and queer people needs to be recognised and engaged with. The transformation of masculinity must be insisted upon realizing that the disrupting of gender leads towards new gender norms, ethics and the liberation of all bodies.