Chapungu- The Day Rhodes Fell (2015)

Thursday the 11th of May, Gallery MOMO In Cape Town presents Dress Code, an exhibition exploring the use of costume in contemporary art. The exhibition features established as well as emerging artists who use the medium of costume in variety of disciplines from sculpture through to performance.

The line-up of includes South African artists Rory Emmett, Francois Knoetze, Lesiba Mabitsela, Siwa Mgoboza, Sethembile Msezane and 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Mary Sibande, who also exhibited at the South African pavilion at the 2010 Venice Biennale,Australian artist Ceil Ann, Mozambican artist Lizette Chirrime, as well as Ayana V. Jackson, Maurice Mbikayi and Lucy Robson.

The opening night will also include ‘Reboot, Boiling Suit’, a performance by Quaid Heneke aka QUEEZY, a gender fluid artist challenging the conventional ideas of sexuality and creating garments that disrupt the notions of masculinity.

Linking costume to the complexities of representation and identity, Dress Code looks at ways in which costume becomes a voice within contemporary art practice. We caught up with Dress Code curator Heinrich Groenewald to find out more about the exhibition.

Untitled | Maurice Mbikayi
  1. How did the exhibition come about?

At Gallery MOMO we are always looking for new and exciting angles to showcase contemporary art from Africa and abroad. I have noticed recently that dress/fashion/costume has become integral in the expression of so many artists’ work. It becomes the medium for social commentaries by means of cultural belonging, sometimes aversion; a way to dismantle societal norms or ways of confronting those vary constructs that the clothes in which we are dressed impose. It can be quite violent if you think about it. Men are taught that, for instance, the suit represents the ultimate ideal for success, but for many, especially within a non-Eurocentric context, this bizarre and sometimes uncomfortable ‘costume’ does not represent any part of their societal reasoning. Fashion or dress is essentially costume that guides the way we perform in society. It’s gendered and imposes a class structure. Dress Code seeks to address and undress all of these themes.

Rubber Sole Monument of Aspiration | Mary Sibande
  1. Please elaborate on the importance of costume with regards to creative expression within a South African context.

I do think that it is important to note how the word ‘costume’ has been given to the ‘dress’ of Africa. Through history museums have been littered with impressions of traditional ‘dress’ as something to be labeled as ‘costume’. These ideas are deeply rooted within colonial misrepresentation of the non-West. Never would you find a suit displayed in a glass vitrine for museum visitors to gawk at. And today this legacy of othering lives on. But artists are the ones enlightening us all. Through radical and playful ways artists are using that element of oppression as a mode for empowerment. By unapologetically celebrating and exploring the myriad other ways to be in this world we now get the opportunity to enjoy the visual, emancipated from the impressions of how we are taught to see.

Les Etres D’Africadia II Fruzsina Porcupina | Siwa Mgoboza
  1. How did you go about selecting the artists on show? 

Dress Code includes a selection of well-established and new upcoming artists. We have included the likes of Mary Sibande and Ayana V. Jackson, who subverts the Victorian dress – associated by its creation with the history of white European women – by clothing the black female body in this attire. Maurice Mbikayi and Francois Knoetze uses recycled materials to comment on our wasteful nature and its impact on our planet. Artists like Lesiba Mabitsela and Rory Emmett dismantles the gendered colonial legacy of the suit through materials associated with their personal identities related directly to this continent they live in. The colourful works of Liztte Chirrime and Siwa Mgoboza playfully uses isishweshwe to create fantastical installations. Lucy Robson garners nostalgia through the photographs of garments left behind. These are but a few names, but finding artists who work through this medium was certainly not difficult. I would invite readers to come to the exhibition to see for themselves why this selection of work speaks to whole in a very special and uniquely expressive way.

  1. Please tell us a bit more about the performance art element of the opening night?

Quaid Heneke is nothing short of a visionary. I could summarize his work as equally as brave as it is chic. The thing about costume is that the moment you get dressed you assume the performative. You become what the costume instructs. For his work Quaid spends hours getting ‘dressed’. And when the process is completed Quaid becomes Queezy, as he becomes she/they. His work is layered with meaning and by being in the very presence of this transformed body it becomes clear that costume does not conceal. It, more than anything, has the ability to reveal each person’s truth; whether you choose to frame your perceptions by looking, or you decide to join in the freedom of expressing your truth through what you wear.

Curator | Heinrich Groenewald

Date: Opening night, 11 May 2017. The exhibition will run until the 10th of June.

Where: Gallery MoMo