Is My Kultuur, skat!
Is my kultuur, skat! aims to creatively illustrate and critically interrogate the notion of culture in relation to materialism by critiquing my lived, taught and practised cultural experiences as exemplified by the Coloured community of Eldorado Park, with a discrete focus on my personal experiences, questioning whether the undoing and unlearning of taught and lived practices and rituals are possible. Growing up as a brown girl, post the Apartheid era entailed being raised in specific social and cultural methods of living, being and navigating through the ‘new’ South Africa, affectionately dubbed the Rainbow Nation. When considering South African histories, particularly the ‘othering’ system which was constructed during colonialism and Apartheid, this allows me to question the notion of whiteness and how it could be inscribed on ideas of the body. This suggests a generational perpetuation of fabricated living and being a brown body in my community and the colonial burdens it carries, which led me to question these constructs.
Why am I emotionally blackmailed by a relative to carry my hair in a certain way? Why would my refusal to utter Afrikaans offend my elders? Why should I be brand conscious when purchasing clothing, jewellery, or other visual tropes that could enhance my appearance? Although these details are minute yet paramount, they illustrate belonging, identity and an eccentric cultural praxis, which evoke a rosy retrospection. I began to probe these questions, which led me to interrogate my culture. In acquainting myself with the racial history of South Africa and its conception, the formulation of coloured culture seems to stem from construction. One juncture culminated in my dissatisfaction and refusal to continue with some cultural practices, which was the day I decided to cut off all my hair. This exercise proved that my rebellion was not in vain, but instead served as the genesis of my willingness to unlearn and undo ways of thinking and being a brown body in South Africa. With this position in mind, my project seeks to respond creatively through a series of oil pastels and collage artworks which utilise moments from my lived experiences to delineate and re-create surreal tropes, as well as implement critical theories to demonstrate and theorise my entanglements.
In revisiting spaces of home and engaging in infamous tea and koeksisters Sundays with my family and close friends, I plan to employ these interactions in considering why my culture seems to be governed by material characteristics and how construction interlinks and grapples with the uneasiness of distinct practices, rituals or terms verbalised as a form of violence against the brown body, thus examining the social burdens imposed through whiteness and the need to keep up appearances with a constructed reality deemed “my culture”.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, I grew up in the post-apartheid generation in a small community called Eldorado Park. The notion of space/place is an integral aspect of my work, as themes of home and belonging serve as the foundation of my thinking and creative process. For most of my life, I felt as though I never really fit in anywhere. Whether it be with my family or in social settings outside of my community, there was always a sense of alienation. Growing up in a family where my mom is black and my dad was coloured was a bit of a challenge at times. During family gatherings, visiting my maternal family formed exceptional memories but, My brother and I stood out in most instances. We looked different, had contrasting accents and only spoke English and Afrikaans. Although my maternal family adored and embraced my brother and me, somehow I always felt like an outsider. Attending primary and high school, which were both predominantly coloured schools, I was cocooned, because I was not in the minority. After completing high school and attending tertiary level, this became a rude awakening experience, because I was subsequently in the minority. It was arduous having to constantly explain and shield my community as I found myself persistently defending it. People whom I befriended and interacted with would constantly ridicule stereotypes as this was all they knew, but it just seemed as though I was always on the defence and yet again feeling othered. Although these actions were not done with ill intent, they had an effect. Through these encounters, I was prompted to create work and process apprehensions. The act of rejecting, dismantling and questioning social normalities fuels the creative process.
Addressing my concerns with the conception of race in South Africa and the aftereffects of this colonial past, I use taught cultural methods to understand what is meant by belonging. Using the notion of ‘home’ as my focal point, the matter of identity forms the central theme of my practice. To initiate critical discussions around the visual works, I interrogate my upbringing and probe at the ‘otherness’ that has been imposed and practised within my community. I utilize photography as a way of archiving. In building an archive through the use of my photography, I reposition the agency of the brown body and re-represent the ‘othered’. The makings of graphite, charcoal and oil pastel drawings assist with the intimacy I would like to create with my viewer. There is a vulnerability and fragility in using these mediums, creating a layer of proximity that I am to establish. Through collage works, I am able to recreate surreal scenes where the peculiar is normal. Worlds where it does not matter if you fit in or not because the oddness is customary. Working with small-scale works aid in me physically drawing my viewer closer to work and establishing a relationship in my absence.
Born in South Africa, in 1994, Whitney Petersen currently works and resides in her hometown, Johannesburg. Working within the themes of identity, race and belonging, Petersen utilizes photography, photomontage and collage, oil pastel and graphite drawings as preferred mediums to convey her narratives. Inspired by home, personal experiences form and inform the foundations for her projects and involve notions around socio-political constructions of identity and social representation in South Africa. Through the documentation of her personal visual narratives, she aims to comment, create and engage in dialogues around her work as well as resist the impression of enforced stereotypes. To create thought-provoking works, Petersen interrogates and comments on race, identity, belonging and representation to create works that aim to initiate critical discussions in the South African narrative.
Petersen has exhibited work at The Market Photo Workshop, as part of a student group exhibition (2019), as well as at Through The Lens Collective – a photography workshop and exhibition space based in Johannesburg in shows which include; (In) Sight (2019), The Portrait Show (2020). As part of the FNB art fair Open City programme, Whitney participated in shows; Towards New Frontiers, curated by Lesole Tautswala and Shakes Mbolekwana, The Playground, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, 2022 and Afropolis, curated by Lesole Tautswala and Kim Kandan, The Zone Rosebank Mall, 2022 and took part in the Addis Foto Fest in collaboration with Windsor Gallery from December 2022 to January 2023.