Otherworldly femme at rest
by Yolanda Mazwana’s
Working with a blend of dry pastel, enamel, acrylic and oil paint on mid to large-sized canvases Yolanda Mazwana’s practice is concerned with platforming the intricacies of Black femmehood. So far this has seen Mazwana through a handful of exhibitions in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Berlin. Over the weekend she opened her latest solo exhibition at Kalashnikov. Titled Read the Room, this week’s edition of Re:View looks at how she uses abstraction to imagine rest.
It is scary here. In the light, far from the dark. Even in crowds when you are not alone. It doesn’t care if you are loved and not shunned. It means nothing that you are supported, heard, seen and celebrated. None of that matters. Nothing can soothe the terror. Here; prayers, pleas, protests and petitions are left on read. Although noted, your angels discard them. Everything is ridiculous and the only thing you can find comfort in is chaos.
A visual artist existing in this context, Yolanda Mazwana invites audiences to Read the Room. Christening Kalashnikovv’s new space at 70 Juta Street in Braamfontein, Read the Room comprises fourteen works imagining the womanhood that lies beneath societal expectations.
Preparing for this exhibition for over a year, both concept and putting paint to canvas, Mazwana closed her studio. “I didn’t have or want anyone around. It was my space to feel whatever I needed to feel in this transition period of womanhood. It’s not coming from a combative pace,” I promise. “It’s coming from a very calm place. When you come see the show you’ve just got to read the room. I’m not calling anyone out. I’m just letting women know they are not alone. It’s emotional but it’s very chilled.”
Describing her work as an abstract expressionist take on Black portraiture, Mazwana says she likes to “imagine how lines and brushstrokes will move based on how I am feeling. So if I lose my words, and it happens a lot, this is how I communicate.”
Shedding the expected layers of desirability, grace, empathy, strength, endurance and devotion, the works in Read the Room reveal the Black femme spirit at rest. Sometimes hairy, othertimes fluid, phallic, transparent, bloody, clotted or embryonic, these figurations of the Black femme psyche exist so far outside of societal norms that many may not fathom what they are. Uninterrupted, unperceived, the forms seem to spend their days catching up on mundane activities like emptying bladders, taking a nap or attaching to loved ones.
Although harmless, there is a nightmarish haze to the figurations in Read the Room. Beyond the way they seep into black abysses or red afterbirth-like backgrounds, beckoning audiences to come with, their haunting charge comes from knowing that for Black femmes rest can, to a large extent, only exist as otherworldly, inaccessible, fictitious renderings.