“Graduates”, an exhibition by final year students from the Department of Fine Arts at the University of the Free State, recently opened at the university’s Johannes Stegman Gallery. Precious Mamotingoe Lesupi reports on the pieces set to interrogate the broader concept of what it means to be human.

Final year students from the Department of Fine Arts showcased various artwork which depict their unique experiences of what it means to be human.

Dr Nadine Lake, lecturer in Gender Studies at the UFS, described pieces of the exhibition as ones which “remind us of the importance of rethinking familiar concepts”. These include, among others, education, feminism and language. Graduates, according to Dr Lake, therefore assist us in taking a step beyond the usual frames of representation and recognition that we have failed to critique deeply in our search for “a more humane experience of everyday life”.

Walking about, a couple of pieces stood out for me and spoke volumes to these various themes.

On feminism, Micaela Balie used floral metaphors to explore sexuality. Her artwork “Woman Flower” is comprised of mediums such as tea stains, pencil drawing and embossing to re-appropriate the floral metaphors in order to promote feminism. On her quest to “trying not to be too obvious” with her artwork, Balie used tea stains to comment on menstruation and make it pretty as it is socially seen as disgusting. As she comments on sexuality, she aims to inspire women to obtain acceptance of their sexuality through her artwork which has also helped her “explore her own sexuality”.

“Can you heal by seeing someone mimicking a Sangoma’s sacred dance?” is the main inspiration behind “Rea Dumela” an artwork by Nkatso Motaung. Motaung channeled her alter ego “Plastic Tshehlana” into her pursuit of spiritual healing in the gallery by observing and exploring a sacred dance. Motaung grew up in a family of Sangomas, with both her mom and sister being Sangomas. Her connection to the ritual dance stems from a young age and her goal is to take the spirituality that comes with it into the gallery space.

A comment on identity, language and culture was thoroughly represented in four artworks by Bontle Tau. She questions whether the French colonial culture she has been exposed to should become her own and explores theories of identity using self-portraits.

Tau, who has a “multicultural, multilingual identity” said that her reasons for specifically using French were that it is the most aesthetic Latin language with what she considers “the prettiest structure” and that she was exposed to the language in her undergraduate years of study. Sans identité (without identity) is one of her artworks that strives to illustrate an effort for authenticity in a newly found cultural identity that she feels is not supposed to be hers.

Teboho Mokhothu uses slavery as the main metaphor for the education system in “Liberation of mind”, an artwork that comments on the current South African education system as well as the history of education since early colonialism. The furniture that forms part of the installation represents the yoke that was used to tie down slaves. The year-long project also includes a thought provoking metaphoric visual representation of the current education system. The piece stresses the inherent restrictions of the South African education system and the psychological oppression students face. The artwork also aims to “provide commentary on the Fees Must Fall movement”.