Javett-UP celebrates women

Justin Dingwall’s Red Blue Mary

This August Javett-UP celebrates the many works by women, or works that have women as subjects, in our 101 Collecting Conversations: Signature Works of a Century exhibition.

The works are as diverse, fascinating and powerful as women themselves – be it Justin Dingwall’s Red Blue Mary (a portrait of serenity, beauty, power and strength that makes a compelling statement for persons with albinism) or Mary Sibande’s Cry Havoc that is inspired by the artist's grandmother and turns the image of a black South African domestic worker into a powerful goddess about to unleash revenge and righteous anger.

There are many works at Javett-UP that show the different ways that women and girls have inspired South Africa’s artists. Dorothy Kay, like Mary Sibande, also has a domestic worker as the subject of her Portrait of Cookie Annie Mavata. Kay’s gentle lines and muted palette make for an imposing, beautiful and mesmerising work of a woman who seems deeply humble, but whose pride, authenticity and dignity shine through.

Esmond White
Eleanor Frances Esmonde-White’s Girl at a Window

Another thoughtful and equally mesmerising work is Eleanor Frances Esmonde-White’s Girl at a Window, who is alone, in deep thought: gentle, yet strong; whimsical, yet dignified; mysterious, yet familiar. All women will look at this painting and recognise themselves in this image. The work is a study in emerging womanhood.

Moses Kottler also chose a young woman as the subject of his sculpture, Meidjie: a beautifully delicate figurine of a child-woman, created just as the artist was starting to mature, and to gain recognition. One can’t help thinking that Meidjie was a labour of love, as it’s so unlike the other work –figures of politicians – Kottler was producing at the time.

Tracey Rose’s La Cicciolina

101 Collecting Conversations: Signature works of a Century also includes works that make powerful statements about women under threat, women claiming their dignity and women making activist statements. Zanele Muholi’s self-portrait, Simthembile I, East London, for example, is one in her Somnyama Ngonyama series that draws attention to the struggle for survival of many trans and queer women in South Africa, who are brutalised in the homophobic culture that continues to ooze through pockets of our society.

Tracey Rose’s La Cicciolina attacks misogyny and the objectification of the female body. It’s a stinging and biting critique of how women are represented in Western art and culture.

Many of the works remind us, too, that women are the deep cultural connectors of societies and communities, and are guardians of tradition and myth. This gives women a power that’s unique to the matriarchy. Take a look at Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi’s Untitled multimedia work that tells an intricate and fascinating story of a rich, colourful and complex world. It’s a world in which women hold spiritual and ritual power: in creation, in fertility, and in the very fabric of life.

Javett-UP celebrates women this Women's Month. We celebrate the creativity, talent and genius of women. We are proud and honoured to hold under our roof the most iconic South African works by women artists and works that give us a deeper appreciation and understanding of womanhood in all its layers, challenges, strengths and complexity.

Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi’s Untitled multimedia work