I didn’t realise or know how to articulate this relationship between myself and non- sexual intimacy until I came across Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic: The erotic as Power”. The idea that stuck with me is that of the erotic as a source of power, one so distinct and dangerous that colonial and patriarchal forces actively corrupted and suppressed it, turning it into a sign of inferiority for women
Firstly, it is important to note that the erotic is not, as commonly understood, simply sex or pertaining to sexual relations. It refers more to our capacity to feel and experience satisfaction. When we engage with our capacity to feel, we turn the supremacist gaze against itself because that capacity humanises us.
When we engage with the parts of ourselves that live outside of the preconceived notions fashioned within the context of male models of power, we begin to delink from popular narratives and tap into our individual narratives whilst simultaneously exposing the outright falseness of these ways of knowing. The erotic serves as a source o power because it induces self connection that drives us to seek satisfaction, and once we experience that energy of fullness and satisfaction – we can seek and work towards it in other spheres or avenues of our lives.
The state of undress is also about not merely taking up space, but ownership of it. For you can’t be a guest or labourer to exist in these spaces with these gestures – it has to be your own space. Especially since we cannot exist freely and display vulnerability without being sexualised or exposing ourselves to any kind of violence.
I paint people that I know, so I see how often my subjects enjoy seeing themselves reflected back in this way.
So that’s what art has become for us: a safe space to express and perform sensuality and navigate our femininity without bearing the burdens that come with this kind of self disclosure in the ‘real’ world.
I was not made to be subtle
“Black feminism is distinctive in its commitment to love as a political practice.” (Nash, 2019)
It is noteworthy to emphasize that South African tribes and cultural collectives have traditionally adhered to patriarchal norms, which persist to this day. The individuals bestowed with authority over the social conduct of larger groups are exclusively men, known as Chiefs and Kings. Within this framework, men are permitted to have multiple wives, while women are predominantly perceived as child bearers and nurturers. This non-democratic system of governance prioritizes the needs of the community over those of individuals, often marginalizing women in decision-making processes (Beall, Jo, Gelb, 2005). While the broader political landscape has undergone changes, many South African black individuals continue to uphold these traditional ideals as a means of preserving their cultural heritage amidst a changing world. Patriarchy, a dominant characteristic of traditional social structures, as described by Becker, incentives men to pursue security, status, and other benefits through control. It instills fear in men regarding the potential control and harm that other men can exert, while positioning being in control as both their primary defence against loss and humiliation, as well as the surest pathway to fulfilling their needs and desires (Becker, 1999: 24). This way of thinking is heavily centred around male desires and needs, thus justifying the control and mistreatment of women. Any behavioural or visual expressions by modern women that indicate self-focus and prioritisation pose a direct challenge to this traditional and controlling mindset. Consequently, when women exhibit such behaviours, it is perceived as a departure from their traditions, disrespecting their culture, as if that culture was not originally designed to silence and render women invisible, serving solely the male ego.