[intro]We’ve recently commemorated six decades since the momentous women’s march to the union buildings in 1956. History remembers these women as brave and resilient and as we head towards Heritage Day, Linda Fekisi profiles contemporary female artists whose work speak to feminism, LGBTI narratives and access to education.[/intro]
From photographers, artists and theatre makers. These are the new generation of women to keep an eye on.
Lihlumelo Toyana: Capturing history through the lens
Lihlumelo Toyana is a photo journalist and visual activist. She captured vital historical moments during the #FeesMustFall and #OutsourcingMustFall protests at the University of the Free State. Her photographs documented the socio-political narrative often neglected by mainstream media.
This mbokodo believes that feminism has always existed in the South African context. “Feminism is growing. Young people are taking over. Young black females, who take pride in themselves, within their identities.” She also believes that more space should be provided for members of the LGBTI community to tell their own stories. “Photography is an important social tool or vehicle towards social change, whether it is practised by a trans woman, a lesbian or bisexual,” she said.
Her journey as a photographer was started out in her own community, her neighbour owned a camera. “I remember being envious of him,” she said. But it was also her late mother who provided the inspiration and support for this burgeoning photographer. “She was a strong and loving woman who was able to bring up three dynamic women on her own,” said Toyana.
Toyana holds a certificate in photojournalism and documentary photography from the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg and she is currently doing a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies at UFS. She was born in Sterkspruit, in the Eastern Cape.
Tessa Muller: We can’t survive without the arts
Tessa Muller (aka PropheTezz), is a poet, inspirational speaker and theatre maker. She recently had her first theatre debut, Crafted by Colours, and is the author of a Poetry Collection, ‘Dedications of Colour’.
“We know in our deepest core that we can’t survive without embracing the arts. My own life experiences, in all facets, also attract me to the written and spoken word and to theatre,” she said, and continued that her children are her daily inspiration. “All their stories, mannerisms, the way they view the world and embrace its energy is more than enough inspiration.”
Muller believes that more emphasis should be placed on educating men and women about feminism. “We should first educate our people on the basics of feminism and types of feminism. In South Africa people still find it difficult to understand that boobs and brains can be in the same body. Women continue to be discriminated against in the workplace. It is time to combat the perpetuation of patriarchy. Women are still oppressed in South Africa.”
“We are also challenged by male violence, mental health, diabetes, obesity and the [lack of] equal income.”
Minè Kleynhans: social cohesion through art
Minè Kleynhans never intended to study art, “I never thought it would be intellectually challenging,” she said. But her views changed when she visited the Fine Arts Department at the UFS in her matric year. “I realised that it’s all about ideas and creatively unpacking them.”
Kleynhans recently took part in a community arts project affiliated with the Free State Arts Festival called, It’s My City to promote cross-cultural exchange and participation. The festival brought together local and international artists working with different communities. Three large sculptures (8m tall) were built in different communities by local artists. The sculptures were displayed at three of the oldest squares in the city: Mapikela Square (Batho), Hoffman Square (Motheo FET College) and the Red Square at UFS. People from the communities were able to visit the sculptures and contribute to them by writing their messages, hopes and wishes for the city onto the sculptures to complete the artworks.
“Strange things inspire me but all my art is about society and the way that we construct society around us or how we take part in it,” she said.
One of her most prominent projects is The Toy Windmill, which plays on the concept of accessibility and the turnstiles located at the gates of the university. She drew influence from the protests which broke out at the UFS in February.
Tertiary institutions are often seen as ‘gate-keeping’ systems, allowing some to enter while denying others access. Kleynhans turned the concept of the turnstile around and transformed it into a toy windmill. By doing so the object becomes familiar and inviting, rather than barring access.
Kleynhans sees economic challenges as ones faced by women. “Having too few females in leadership positions is also another challenge,” she said. “I think women still struggle with people accepting their authority.”
Kleynhans is currently enrolled for her MA in Fine Arts at the University of the Free State.