Photography by Ugo Woatzi

Representations of the nude with BKhz’s ‘Metamorphosis’

Just over a week ago I entered through the door of BKhz. From the moment the two shows, The Zeitgeist curated by Banele Khoza and Metamorphosis curated by Nkhensani Mkhari opened to he public there was a steady movement of bodies entering the space. We watched two models as they performed for The Zeitgeist. In the back room as you walk in you are instantly halted by the larger than life photographic representation of a femme nude by Jody Brand. Engaging with Metamorphosisis cathartic as you are reminded of what you are when stripped down to your essence–our bodies are sleeves. Beautiful vessels that carry our souls… our bodies are in a constant state of change.

Metamorphosis revolves around thematics of transformation, change, transmutation… using the human body as a point of departure, particularly human flesh,” states curator Nkhensani Mkhari. Mkhari views the human form as in a constant state of flux and sees the body as being in an endless cycle of death and rebirth. “The photographic medium allows us to freeze this process, evoking what Homi Bhaba terms the third-space, (re)centering the body as a repository for transformation, creating a space for thought on questions surrounding identity… identity as territory, as a colonial idea, a territorial idea, where like we do with countries, we create borders around our bodies. New skins, new lands.”

Photography by Kgomotso Neto

Unpacking BKhz’s decision to curate a show of nudes Mkhari explains that nudes are confrontational and bare. Further sharing a narrative on how the show was received publically and creating links to the meaning behind having a show that can traditionally be seen as provocative in nature, Mkhari states “…A mother brought their kids to the show and asked me to explain to the kids why the space is full of naked bodies. I told them about the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, about how butterflies don’t wear clothes… so all the naked bodies are butterflies.” Making the analogy of nakedness to the beautiful nudity of butterflies with Metamorphosis we are reminded of the short story by the same name authored by Franz Kafka. Metamorphosis by Kafka details the narrative of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes up one morning to discover that he has metamorphosed into a giant bug. Unfortunately for Gregor, his family are deeply uneasy about the situation especially considering that he can no longer leave the house to earn money to help them pay for their lifestyle. The tale ends with Gregor’s death as he realises that he is nothing but a burden to his family. However, BKhz’s Metamorphosis can be read as a wish. It is a penny in the fountain towards the “normalisation” of nude representation while simultaneously highlighting the beauty of the nude form. The similarity between both Metamorphosis’ is in their use of the analogy of human transformation into insect bodies. Both narratives similarly address the cycle of life and death as well as human transformation and the body that is as Mkhari notes, in constant flux.

Photography by Marcia Elizabeth

Mkhari explains the curatorial strategy of the show by stating, “I wanted to represent different bodies, in different states of being and temporal space. In creating the flow of the exhibition I wanted to evoke ideas around Gestalt psychology in relation to photography: closure, continuance, the law of common fate, similarity and proximity. Gestalt is defined as an attempt to understand the laws behind the ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world.” Selecting artists for the show was not a linear process remarks Mkhari. The majority of artists selected for the show photographed their images on film allowing for a textural feel while simultaneously echoing ideas surrounding nakedness and striated space. Artists of the show include Kgomotso Neto, Bernard Brand, Maxime Michelet, Ugo Woatzi, Jody Brand, Marcia Elizabeth and Abigail Ekue. Intersectional in nature, Metamorphosis relates to The Zeitgeist in that both exhibitions speak to the human form. As Mkhari explains, “one is about nudity, the human form, the other one is about clothing, what we put over the human form…”

Metamorphosis is an act of bravery–to create a show that is solely about nudes is not only evocative but meaningful. The show should however not be mistaken as a stage to provoke, Metamorphosis subverts commonly held perceptions surrounding nudity in a socio-political context that is conservative. However, the show does not attempt to shock­–it is a commentary on the beauty of nudity and speaks to the beauty that the BKhz team evokes show after show.

The Zeitgeist and Metamorphosis are showing at BKhz till 20 August 2019.

Photography by Ugo Woatzi

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