Bringing together a selection of artworks from the permanent collections of The New Church Museum and Iziko South African National Gallery, Our Lady reflects on the evolving canon of artistic representations of women spanning more than 170 years of image making.
This exhibition highlights works of selected artists who employ different strategies when depicting the female subject. When we think of visual representations of women, we are often confronted with idealised, mythologised, sexualised or objectified images that are revealing of unequal gender relationships. Women’s bodies have been used as symbolic objects, representing political, erotic or aesthetic ideals, rather than representing individual female subjects.
Until the nineteenth century, women were predominantly portrayed in art in a religious context, and the most frequently depicted female image was that of ‘Our Lady’ the Virgin Mary. While the Virgin Mary represented the pinnacle of the feminine ‘ideal’ within the essentially patriarchal forms of traditional Christianity, other cultural concepts of the feminine also mirror the opposing attributes of saint or sinner, wife or witch, virgin or whore. Depictions of the nude female body were restricted to images of Eve or scenes from classical mythology, as the paganism of the Greeks and Romans excused their lack of modesty.
It is evident that over the centuries, women increasingly emerged from the shadow of religion but remained represented by the patriarchal imagery allocated to the female form. Viewing the older works on Our Lady with the benefit of a contemporary perspective we are able to see them as both trapped in, and free from, the macro-historical forces that were at play when they were produced. Many of the contemporary works reference this traditional imagery in the process of reclaiming, rejecting or reconstituting notions and attitudes around powerful female capacity.
The exhibition Our Lady, a partnership between The New Church Museum and Iziko South African National Gallery, was hosted by ISANG. The exhibition was meant to run from 11 November 2016 to June 2017. It closed prematurely on 15 December 2016.
On 12 December 2016 Iziko made a unilateral decision to remove three artworks at the artists’ requests. On 15 December 2016 The New Church Museum withdrew all loaned works from the censored exhibition and signed a dissolving of partnership agreement. What remains left of the exhibition is still open to the public (as at 27 April 2017).
A public discussion was held on 15 December 2016.
Our Lady was co-curated by Candice Allison and Kirsty Cockerill (from TNCM), and Andrea Lewis (from ISANG).
The exhibition has drawn widespread media attention and criticism for the decision to include a work by Zwelethu Mthethwa, an artist currently standing trial for the murder of Nokuphila Kumalo, a sex worker.
In the interests of transparency and debate, this web page will serve as an online archive of the exhibition, including before and after images of the exhibition , the curator’s wall text, links to press statements and open letters which have been released, as well as media articles and reviews which have been written on the topic.
The full list of artists included in the exhibition from 11 November – 15 December 2016:
ALFRED STEVENS, BRIDGET BAKER, CAMERON PLATTER, CHARLES D’ENTRAYGUES, CONRAD BOTES, CONSTANCE STUART-LARRABEE, DEBORAH POYNTON, ED YOUNG, EDMUND SULLIVAN, GEORGE HENRY, HEROLD GREEN, JOOS VAN DER BEKE, KHANYISILE MBONGWA, LOUIS RICARD, MARCUS STONE, MASTER OF THE RETABLE OF GüSTROW, MATTHEW HINDLEY, MAURICE GREIFFENHAGEN, NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY, PENNY SIOPIS, PETRUS HENDRIKS, PHILIP CONNARD, PIETER HUGO, SCHOOL OF FIESOLE, TRACEY ROSE, WILLIAM ETTY, ZWELETHU MTHETHWA
The list of artists included in the exhibition after 15 December 2016:
ALFRED STEVENS, CHARLES D’ENTRAYGUES, CONSTANCE STUART-LARRABEE, EDMUND SULLIVAN, GEORGE HENRY, HEROLD GREEN, JOOS VAN DER BEKE, LOUIS RICARD, MARCUS STONE, MASTER OF THE RETABLE OF GüSTROW, MAURICE GREIFFENHAGEN, PETRUS HENDRIKS, PHILIP CONNARD, PIETER HUGO, SCHOOL OF FIESOLE, WILLIAM ETTY
ARTICLES & REVIEWS:
Robertson, Andrew. Artists divided over murder accused’s art. IOL. 22 January 2017
Davis, Rebecca. Art and Outrage: National Gallery under attack. Daily Maverick. 18 January 2017
Van Niekerk, Garreth. Outrage over Our Lady exhibition. City Press, 15 January 2017
Shorkend, Danny. Art exhibition with a difference. IOL Lifestyle, 8 January 2017
Gamedze, Thuli. Concerning Museums. Adjective, 4 January 2017
O’Toole, Sean. Not on Display. Frieze, 16 December 2016
Steinhauer, Jillian. As Artist’s Murder Trial Drags On, Display of His Work Sparks Uproar. Hyperallergic, 13 December 2016
Partridge, Matthew. A South African Horror Story. Adjective, 12 December 2016
Corrigall, Mary. Women’s Work is Far From Done. Sunday Independent, 11 December 2016
Furlong, Ashleigh. Murder-accused artist Zwelethu Mthethwa’s work at Iziko sparks heated debate. News 24, 2 December 2016
Rossouw, Chad. Dialogue and value. ArtThrob, 2 December 2016
Pather, Ra’eesa. The public gallery – Activists continue to seek justice for murdered sex worker. Mail & Guardian, 1 December 2016
Abrams, Amah-Rose. Activists Call for Removal of Work by Murder-Accused Mthethwa From Exhibition About Women. Artnet, 30 November 2016
Africa News Agency, Take down murder accused Mthethwa’s artwork – Sweat. Citizen, 28 November 2016
PRESS STATEMENTS & OPEN LETTERS:
28 November 2016 – Issued by Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT):
Iziko South African National Gallery promotes work of murder accused Zwelethu Mthethwa
29 November 2016 – Joint statement issued by Iziko Museums of South Africa and The New Church Museum:
RE: The inclusion of Zwelethu Mthethwa’s artwork Untitled (from the Hope chest series) as part of the exhibition Our Lady, at the Iziko South African National Gallery
15 December 2016 – Open letter to Iziko SANG and The New Church Museum
19 December 2016 – Statement issued by The New Church Museum: Open Dialogue Response
22 December 2016 – Statement issued by Iziko Museums of South Africa: Our Lady Arts Action Discourse
7 January 2017 – Open Letter to Iziko Regarding ‘Our Lady’
10 January 2017- Our Lady petition created
13 January 2017 – Press statement: Iziko’s Response to Our Lady Petition
A selection of works included: