Lawrence Lemaoana

Lawrence Lemaoana’s recent one-man exhibition Fortune Telling in Black, White, and Red dissected notions of selfhood, rootedness and freedom in a climate of adversity-turned-victimization. The show struck a chord, given that Thabo Mbeki had just been ousted as president of South Africa. Newspaper headlines were filled with proclamations of dissent in the ranks of the ANC, eventually leading to a split in the party, while Jacob Zuma delivered a convincing speech to scholars at New York University.

Lawrence Lemaoana’s recent one-man exhibition Fortune Telling in Black, White, and Red dissected notions of selfhood, rootedness and freedom in a climate of adversity-turned-victimization. The show struck a chord, given that Thabo Mbeki had just been ousted as president of South Africa. Newspaper headlines were filled with proclamations of dissent in the ranks of the ANC, eventually leading to a split in the party, while Jacob Zuma delivered a convincing speech to scholars at New York University. The exhibition consisted of digital and textile-based works. Despite the strong conceptual grounding of the digital works, the textile pieces were the more striking. Using current headlines, naïve figures, and frivolous ornamentation, Lemaoana playfully reverse-engineers dominant archetypes of masculinity, in-turn creating new constructs of manhood in a hyper-realised South African vernacular. Lemoana’s parody and wit, particularly regarding Zuma, steals from earlier Feminist strategies, emphasising the ‘backlash’ effect of the media in creating an acceptable image of man, specifically ‘African man’. Both the forgotten and the constructed are merged in this work. Lemaoana polemicises the image of Zuma as a leader, father, healer, cleric, and protector, creating his own brand of ‘xeno-feminism’ that communicates the political disdain in certain sectors of South African society, pointing towards the determinism of the proletariat as a catalyst for deification and martyrdom.Using selected patterns, colours, and fabrics, Lemaoana subtly inverts established narratives, schizophrenically reconstructing unorthodox perspectives about heritage, birthright and ancestry. The poetry of lost leaders, absent saints, and ‘silly men’ is carefully developed into text-based works such as To Kill a Mans Pride and Things Fall Apart (both titles taken from the writings of Chinua Achebe). Headlines become fetish-like, revealing the will of the people towards mongering and idolatry. Titles are ‘crowned’ with appropriated newspaper mastheads in his works The Manly Son, Male and Guardian and The Star, to further parallel such perceived paragons of man, media, and the masses. Zuma’s image is directly mocked and spectacularised in other, more figurative works, such as The Last Line of Defence and The Resurrection Series, where the iconic becomes comical, the ironic metaphorical. Much like the inventive photomontages of John Heartfield, Lemaoana uses imported and inherited realities, and interweaved cultural chimeras, to deconstruct his ancestry and assumed, but also perhaps lost, birthright. Propaganda, being corrosive in this respect, becomes didactic, and is formalised through the mediation of ownership, authorship, autonomy and tradition. For example, red and black symbolise the conjuring-up of unfamiliar ancestry, collected and fragmented texts, while white is a symbol for medicine, healing, and also sickness, suggesting the ancient Greek term “pharmacon”, meaning both poison and cure. In this way, a ubiquitous state of limbo and flux forces a colonization of the headlines, so to speak.
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