Rirhandzu Vermeulen (b.2001) is a Wits fine art student completing her last year at the Wits school of Art. The artist is from Hoedspruit, Limpopo and is currently based in the city of Johannesburg, Gauteng. Her work features bright and colourful oil paintings centred around her navigation and exploration of her femininity in the city. The genesis of her work has to do with her experience and analysation of living simultaneously in Hoedspruit and Johannesburg. Socially navigating two vastly different geographic locations that ultimately operate at different frequencies, rhythms, with different values, ideologies etc is what occupies Rirhandzu and her current work. The navigation of the above mentioned is essentially portrayed as mythologizing the self through – what the artist has coined, as a kind of; aesthetic contortion in order to somehow assimilate (or not) to said respective values, morals, ideologies, rhythms. The work goes beyond this and starts to play around questions of gender expression, hyper-femininity, power, female autonomy etc. Rirhandzu is looking to bring her concepts to life in the form of sculptural and installitive work in the near future.
“… my initial inspiration for this current body of work came from my realisation and personal experience of the different rhythms and frequencies Johannesburg operates at compared to where I come from in rural Hoedspruit. In his book ‘The Human Zoo’ Desmond Morris claims that the complexity of a cityscape like Johannesburg breeds even more complex social dynamics and relationships between people. he describes most of these social dynamics as unnatural as he speaks of cityscapes in an almost twisted and perverse way as he claims they stray too far away from the more ‘pure’ and ‘simple’ rural lifestyle our more archaic ancestors lived.
as a young mixed race woman living in Johannesburg, South Africa: it is easy to see the ‘unnaturalness’ Morris speaks of. I often express that I have never been more aware of my ‘femaleness’ living anywhere else than this city. the social implications and ever looming potential threat attached to my sex and gender is terrifying! this constant threat demands even more complex and nuanced solutions – or at least defence mechanisms.
this is essentially what I visually explore in my paintings; the resilience and navigation of specific parts of the ‘female experience’. I explore mechanisms of aesthetic contortion; similar to the kind of assimilation Santu Mofokeng collected and documented in ‘The Black Photo Album’, I explore the potential of gender performativity as a mechanism to evade the above said threats and I also explore reclamation of said threats like the white male gaze as a potential mechanism.
my paintings constantly make use of the female subject; I have seen that this leads to preconceived ideas of the subject and may encourage a more literal and rigid perspective. because of this I have decided to build an installitive version of my paintings. this version being a room with an unusable/ non-ergonomic chair similar to those in my paintings. the chair; symbolising the ‘unnatural’ and threatening world women face everyday. this installation does not feature a subject as my goal with this is to create something more abstract in order to practice opacity rather than generating as well as relying on imagery that is heavily loaded and may restrict any type of nuance, mystery and/or magic to occur … “