Contrary to the Barbs view that a rose by any other name is still a rose, is simply not true when it comes to identity politics. Labels unfortunately capture our history and are unconscious indicators of our place in society’s hierarchy.

Despite his assertion that labels do matter, Lindsey Johnson (writer and broadcaster) believes that we should not allow others to define us. “We must be free to assert our own humanity and free to choose to define ourselves as we see fit. And if that means being coloured and proud, so be it. If it also means identifying as black, African or mixed race – whether only some or part of these labels or all at once – then so be it too.”

KWAAI, this year’s summer exhibition at Eclectica Galleries, curated by Christina Fortune, seeks to explore the question of “colouredness”. The purpose of the exhibition is not to provide any answers, but to open a conversation and celebration around ideas of the coloured identity and the lived experiences of those who carry it. It will attempt to shine a light on the continued hardships faced by coloured people as a consequence of Apartheid, and simultaneously contribute positively to the coloured community. 

This exploration will cover such concepts as legacy, family, fragility and dispossession, as well as humour, joy and collective empowerment. 

The artist who are exhibiting do not necessarily label themselves with the term but understand that their lived experience is affected by it. The exhibition theme is one the director of Eclectica, Shamiela Tyer, understands intimately. She has experienced both pre and post-apartheid prejudices directed towards the coloured community in Cape Town. 

Left: Scott Eric Williams, Klawarritsoeis Woven shoelace
Right: Stephane Conradie, Aspirations, 2017

Her aim with this exhibition is not just to start a fruitful exploration of the coloured identity, but also to educate other racial and cultural groups about “colouredness”. 

With the participation of the artists, through an open a dialogue that catalysis understanding of who we are, some means of healing can be provided.

Gary Frier, one of the exhibiting artists, is using portraiture to look at the concepts of consciousness and physical place. His piece of a Khoi woman superimposed over a section of a JH Pierneef painting is a “comment on colonist tradition” and on “the dispossession of culture and land.”

Stephené Conradie’s sculptures take commonplace objects found in working class homes, with which she suggests could provide an important insight into understanding identity formation through studying what people attach value to and how they create meaning in the private spheres of their homes via objects. The work she displays in this exhibition forms part of her larger body of work called “Ordentlikheid: a creolised object”. Conradie explores the link between how people categorise and arrange objects in their homes; and colonization, slavery and segregation. She investigates the material culture that results from displacement and cultural influences.

Rory Emmett explains his reproduction of old family photographs as an interest “in the convergence of pigmentation and identity”. He uses “colouredness” as a medium to make sense of systems of classification – and to deconstruct them. In facing these systems, which for the most part still exist, he aims to reveal the absurdity of rigid schema and the difficulty of life under these circumstances. His work is at once a display of joyful moments experienced by ordinary South Africans and a constructive critique of the “Rainbow Nation” concept.

Coloured identity has historically been measured in terms of whiteness and blackness. One of the ways in which this is apparent is through beauty standards, particularly related to hair texture. Kirsten Arendse explores the idea of control and conditioning within how these standards lead labels like “kroeskop” and “bossiekop”, terms that “negatively governed the appearance of non-European individuals for many years in efforts to other, segregate and demean”.

Other exhibiting artists include Joshua Williams, Hasan Essop, Mikhailia Petersen, QUEEZY and more. They, with the Eclectica team, have come together to work towards channeling nuanced narratives to achieve progressive representation and community building – which is why a portion of the sales of the works will go directly towards the community various organizations, such as Cedar High and Eduskeight. Join us in our aims through and beyond this exhibition, as we continue through workshops, campaigns, activism.