“Coloured” : Upcoming exhibition by Siona O’Connell

30 Jun 2015 - 12:15

Dr Siona O’Connell’s latest exhibition, Coloured, will soon be opening at the Embassy Tea Gallery in London. The opening event, open to all, is on Friday the 17th of July 2015 at 18h30. For more details on opening hours and the gallery address, see the poster below. 

About the project

The Cape Flats is a geographical area of Cape Town that sits under the watchful gaze of the (Cecil John) Rhodes Memorial, an imperialist edifice that continues to shadow the city in many overt and covert ways. This memorial – an imposing classically designed structure complete with columns – stands guard over the city that is in the shadow of the iconic Table Mountain. Through the mechanism of the apartheid Group Areas Act of 1950, which saw thousands of families forcibly relocated from the city centre to these peripheral areas, the Cape Flats has come to denote that part of Cape Town where people who are considered ‘black’ and ‘coloured’ (of mixed heritage) have lived. Areas such as Bonteheuwel, Manenberg and Hanover Park are easily visible from key tourist areas such as Table Mountain and Rhodes Memorial, but to many of the inhabitants of these flat and dusty settlements, the division between the wealthy suburbs of the city and their own is acute. Newspaper headlines draw continuous attention to the socio-economic ills that plague the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who live in the Flats, reinforcing the division and isolation. The Cape Flats is a fraught space, echoed in the complexities of what it means to be identified as ‘coloured’. It is a space of liminality, of lives lived in the shadows and on the periphary.

The Spring Queen pageant is an annual event in which female factory workers from the clothing and textile industry in the Western Cape strut their stuff on the ramp. The pageant began in the late 1970s at the height of apartheid. Today, thousands of jubilant supporters attend the final event, hosted by the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU); the event barely registers in the affluent and still largely ‘white’ areas of the city. Yet on stage for that one night, one will find a pageant participant resplendent in an elaborate hairstyle, wearing a dress that is proudly produced by their fellow factory workers. These women who are almost always ‘coloured’ are the cutters, runners, machinists and packers of the clothing manufacturing industry in Cape Town and live on the Cape Flats.  The image of the Spring Queen weaves a story of resilience and imagination that draws our attention to a brief moment to the ramp — a moment that argues for liberation of a different sort, beyond emancipation at the polls. The performance manifested in the careful dress design, hairstyles, arresting confidence of stride and gaze, and group efforts of the factory workers in raising funds for their queen, urges us to consider these minutes of self representation as critical entrypoints in urgent questions of how we understand freedom.

Miss Gay Western Cape grew out of the Spring Queen pageant and the new South African constitution that was the first in the world to include protection for sexual minorities. The event is a platform for queer and largely ‘coloured’ men from the Cape Flats to perform in a secure environment without exploitation. These men take to the ramp to complicate heteronormative ideals and to perform new identities that lend themselves to new understandings of how we conceptualize the human. The pageant draws a diverse audience and is for much of the year, a topic of conversation across ‘coloured’ households. While this pageant offers visibility and enactment of alternative sexual and gender identities, it also opens up its own complex set of challenges and cultural negotiations that are not unproblematic or unrestrictive. This pageant reflects the meanings associated with ‘gay’ and ‘coloured’ that can be both liberatory and oppressive.

Spring Queen and Miss Gay Western Cape tells us about the value of certain lives, and asks participants and spectators alike to reflect on just which lives are deemed human and which are not. As such, it is a crucial prism through which to think about how we want to live, what histories we want to write and what questions we want to put to the legacies of trauma.

The exhibition will include photography and installation work.