In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.

A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western

DISCHARGE 2012             COLOUR COLLOQUIUM 2010             SYNTHETIC DIRT 2011

Monday, March 1, 2010

Re-imagining the Self through Colour: the Politics of Pink in the Art of Lawrence Lemaoana by Mary Corrigall

With its ability to seduce and lure spectators, it was French theorist Charles Blanc who in the 19th century unequivocally declared that colour in and of itself represented the feminine sex – monochromatic drawings were viewed as masculine.

Nevertheless specific hues or colour groupings have also been subject to gendered classifications, albeit that these have not remained fixed over time. In 1809 German Romantic painter and theorist Philipp Otto Runge concocted a colour circle of ideal and real values in which a range of warm tones from yellows to orange were pegged as distinctly masculine and while at the other end of the spectrum the cool blues to the violets were deemed as essentially feminine. When the neo-romantic expressionists began to work with the same colour chart almost a century later, these associations were reversed. Despite these radical shifts in values the semiotics of colour have intrinsically invoked a discourse on gender. So while deconstructivist theorists such as Stephen Melville have suggested that colour is “bottomlessly resistant to nomination, attaching itself absolutely to its own specificity and the surfaces on which it has or finds visibility,” it has been subjected to cultural definitions.

South African artist Lawrence Lemaoana attempts to uncover and challenge gendered notions attached to the colour pink, nevertheless the power of his expression rests on exploiting the culturally inscribed values attached to this colour. Lemaoana projects this signifier of femininity onto masculine protagonists associated with what is deemed an essential masculine pursuit, rugby, thereby subverting the ‘rules of the game’. Lemaoana’s liberal use of pink in works such as the Last Line of Defence (2008) also summons a discourse on race. For while pink is associated with femininity this tone is also, and particularly within the canon of traditional western painting, connected to the colour of human skin - for obvious reasons these connotations are interrelated. In such a context it is Caucasian flesh tones that operate as the default signifier of skin. So while Lemaoana’s art manifests as photographs of pink-clad subjects it wrestles with the politics of western painting and its relationship polemics on race. Studies of colour have centred on painting largely because, as art historian John Gage observed, colour valorised the radical truth of painting.

The colour pink gives expression to Lemaoana’s art but he also employs it as a device to re-imagine or re-conceive of notions of the self, not only the masculine self but the black self. By completely enrobing his subjects in pink he shatters the archetypal masculine self while similarly advancing them as ‘ideal’, albeit synthesised, white-European protagonists. In this way while his subjects are liberated on one front they are similarly locked into another circumscribed identity on the other. This paper will explore this paradoxical position which Lemaoana articulates in relation to both gendered notions attached to the colour pink as well as the manner in which this colour has manifested in the canon of western painting.

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