words, video and images by CHRIS WAIT
THERE SEEMS TO BE A BASIC PATTERN OR RATHER A CODE FIRMLY IMBEDDED IN THE REALITY OF ALL THINGS. A UNIVERSAL PROGRAMME WHOSE MOST BASIC BUILDING BLOCKS ARE THE POLAR OPPOSITES OF NIGHT AND DAY, POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE, BEGINNING AND END, LIFE AND DEATH AND MALE AND… FEMALE. TENSION IS NEEDED TO STRETCH THE FABRIC OF REALITY IN ORDER TO UPHOLD ALL VISIBLE AND EXPERIENCEABLE STRUCTURES. THE OPPOSITES OF MALE AND FEMALE ATTRACTS TO CREATE. THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL ABSTRACTION. THIS IS A FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE ON WHICH ALL THINGS SEEM TO FUNCTION. BETWEEN THE BEGINNING AND THE END THERE IS A LINE, A FINE WIRE ON WHICH WE ARE FORCED TO DANCE LIKE ACROBATS SIMULTANEOUSLY CURIOS AND AFRAID OF THE VOID BENEATH. IN THIS DANCE WE ARE ISOLATED BUT BINDED. PARADOX IS THE ONLY TRUTH. THERE IS NO WINNER. THERE ARE NO LOSERS.
(Copyright held by FREE WILD WORLD)
In the first days of summer on a late afternoon I approached the slightly off centre from Cape Town's CBD, narrow two storey building where the exhibition opening of Chantal Coetzee's latest work: A MONSTROUS REGIMENT OF WOMEN, was about to kick off.
I have barely returned form an expedition to escape the city in which I spent the last two days in a shack with no electricity and I was not sure I was ready to take on any kind of social scene, but I was curious, not knowing that much about Chantal's work. She also mentioned that the wine would be superb and being a connoisseur of basically all alcoholic beverages ever created by humankind, this was not something I could resist.
Slipping from the Cape Town rainy gloom into the 3RD i GALLERY in 95 Waterkant Street I was greeted by a friendly young man at the entrance before following the sound of chatter up the narrow stairs.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: the artwork is bold and iconic, colourful and striking. It's a statement of fearlessness, of figures from the past that needs to be recognised.
I made my way through the growing crowd while greeting familiar faces to the table at the back, and yes, the snacks were gorgeous, delicately prepared by CHANTAL COETZEE’S daughter. (If I had a restaurant I would offer her a job on the spot, but I don’t, so I didn’t.)
THE WINE (BON COURAGE), is cultivated from the rich soil by fourth generation of winemakers in the Robertson Valley and it was of the export variety, in other words; the good stuff. It surely did not disappoint. Bold and beautiful wine paired with bold and beautiful food, art and a steadily growing bold and beautiful audience.
In the first ten minutes of my arrival I judged the event as a great success and I was suddenly very glad that I skipped the online movie and made the effort to attend.
Not too long before this night, when Chantal sent me the invite to her show, I asked her if I could perform some of my MUSIC at her opening. I had no idea what the exhibition was about and she gently explained that her work was about the empowerment of women.
Instead of feeling disappointed or rejected, I laughed at my own ignorance. Allow me to give you some context to my arrogance: (yes I know this event is not about me, but please bear with me, I'm attempting to make a statement beyond the narrow boundaries of the individual ego). Only very recently have felt like I have finally found my music and voice. It took me half of my current lifetime to reach this point, (being a bit of hard ass and slow learner). I finally feel like I have become my own man. This new found joy of identity and subsequent confidence makes me want to perform wherever I can.
What I mean to say is that in the process of finding myself, my manhood and possibly the final version of my identity, I also simultaneously gained the centeredness to appreciate the feminine expression and power without any resistance or insecurity.
As a boy I grew up in a patriarchal Afrikaner society and all the expectations of performance and manly societal behaviour it aims to instil through generations, but I could never be that typical man. It never made sense to me. All those rules. All the conventions and control. I wanted to be free of it all and still be counted as a man. So the day came fairly late in my life where I finally did celebrate and revel in that freedom, and the circular paradox was made complete.
And so I did not feel intimidated or angry when I walked up the stairs of the modest and elegantly unobtrusive 3RD i Gallery in Waterkant Street only to be greeted by the bold and iconic faces of the proud and strong women warriors and rulers who's legacies were repressed by a mostly Eurocentric, male dominated narrative.
I found it to be exciting and beautiful. The message was clear and direct: there we were, here we are, like we always have been, and you need to know about us. We deserve and earned our place in the world we gave birth to.
Chantal's work is bright, bold and detailed. If you are looking for something demure and dainty this might not be for you. Her works speak of strength, female power, wisdom and character. It harbours no fear. It is honest and open, like any good relationship should be. It makes no excuses and asks no forgiveness. It is a unified symbol of our times and one has no option but to listen.
While interviewing Chantal for the video piece her compassion, strength and love was palpable and inspiring. Clearly she is an artist who experienced and who overcame much in order to find the clarity and knowledge that allowed her to become the creative and teacher that she is.
The irony in me writing this review as that I am a middle aged white male who has fallen through the cracks and who struggles constantly of feelings of having been ignored. I am a person who’s driving force and only real belief, comfort, meaning and motivation in and otherwise nihilistic life is to create. A man the same as any other man but one who believes in the power and feeling of the creative act above all. I do not subscribe to the stereotypical male dominant system of how things are supposed to be done.
Maybe this is exactly what qualifies me to write this review and why Chantal’s work and meaning touched me so much. I get it. I can empathize and and the fact that I am a white, middle aged man formed, bred and born into a dominant male patriarchy in which a man’s status is determined by the size of his metaphorical phallus has nothing to do with it. I understand what it is to feel marginalized for not believing, for not wanting to participate in the slaying and hunt any longer, for holding on to the idealism of beauty, emotion, sensitivity and creativity, the so called ‘lesser work’ of housewives and effeminate men in the outdated narrative told by controlling and domineering men.
The power and beauty of the feminine mind and spirit has an equal right to exist. The manly work of conquest, war, subjugation, dominance and havoc wreaking, society obliterating testosterone infused success is not all it’s cracked up to be. Under art and creativity all are equal.
Our world is changing at a speed that we as humans never experienced before. AI, robots, huge rockets, new daily discoveries on the edge of space, new wars and school shootings, new diseases, new climatic catastrophes and am I allowed to say (?), new attractive and witty female political leaders who bring a new and much more 'sexy' balance to the NEW WORLD ORDER currently being formed from the blood and sacrifice of soft bodies broken on the hard stoned faces of grim, egotistical old men.
In this new brave world we need ALL hands on deck. We cannot allow this ship to sink.
NEED COPY, VIDEO OR IMAGES FOR YOUR EVENT? CONTACT ME: CHRIS WAIT: +27 (0)82 298 1171
A TIP OF THE HAT TO GALLERY OWNER SHARON PEERS FOR RUNNING A GREAT SHOW
FREE WILD WORD (PTY) LTD
company reg: 2021/385290/07
5 Birkdale Avenue, Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa