A face like mine: an artist self-reflects on her identity against the backdrop of South Africa

SOURCE: Critical Arts
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
PUBLICATION YEAR: 2017
TITLE AUTHOR(S): A.Mahali
KEYWORDS: GENDER EQUALITY, IDENTITY, INEQUALITY, POST APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA, RACIAL SEGREGATION, VISUAL ARTS SECTOR, WOMEN
DEPARTMENT: Human and Social Development (HSD)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 10133

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Abstract

In South Africa, there is still a dearth of recognised contemporary art led by black women. In her 2008 work A Face like Mine, theatre maker Asanda Phewa, a self-identified middle-class woman of the post-apartheid era, uses the character of an unnamed maid figure to articulate her anxieties about the complexity of being a young black woman in contemporary South Africa. Phewa blurs the lines between ethnography and autobiography, self and author, artist and figure, situating herself and family history in the work. This work demonstrates multiple transitions in the theatre maker, the central character, and, inadvertently, South Africa. These three transitory phases are discussed as withdrawal, liminality, and an 'initiation into being' performed through intimacy rites. Michel Foucault's concept of the subject and what he calls 'divided practices' aid in the analysis of the transitions in A Face like Mine and provide a lens with which to explore the limits and possibilities of agency for Phewa's subject. Additionally, Judith Butler's notion of performativity reveals how Phewa's 35-minute identity work claims new territory over black womanhood while adopting painful norms of intersectionality, race, class, and gender to shed light on these multiple identities and to subsequently supplant them.