THE removal of her work from a Franschhoek gallery reinforced the work’s gender injustice theme, artist Celeste Coetzee said yesterday.
“It’s very ironic that my work showcased female submission in a patriarchal society… Women were, and still are, silenced in many ways. And then they went ahead and silenced me,” Coetzee said
Coetzee, 53, had her piece pulled from The Gallery at Grande Provence after she posed nude and tore pages from the Bible.
Gallery curator Carina Bekker argued that Coetzee “was trying to be the vulnerable woman suffering under the system. But women are not under that system anymore.”
Coetzee said the gallery had missed the point. Her piece was based on the practices of spiritual leader Angus Buchan, a farmer-turned-evangelist who leads men’s-only religious conferences in SA and around the world. “The conferences he holds are called MMCs, or Mighty Men’s Conferences. My research found that 80 percent of the men who attended in SA were Afrikaans. Many of them had been replaced by their wives as the breadwinners of the family.”
Buchan has held MMCs in the Western Cape at Paarl, Vaal Dam, Overberg, and in the Karoo. Between 200 000 and 350 000 men have attended these conferences, which Coetzee said are about much more than just brotherhood and religion: “They are about reclaiming dominance in a society of increasing female power.”
In Coetzee’s exhibit, she sat in an old-fashioned kitchen, wrapping potatoes in torn biblical messages and then bottling them, to show that patriarchal sentiments live on. “My intent was to preserve. To show that messages of feminine submission are still preserved.”
Coetzee said the basis of her work has always been freedom of expression. Growing up in Bloemfontein, she looked to her artist grandmother for inspiration. “I know my grandmother would be proud of me now,” she said.
Coetzee’s previous work has included an exposé of the Afrikaans education system and a live installation of a transvestite-turned-Bushman, with the attempt to reveal human rights injustices against transvestites, transgenders, and more generally, those who are marginalised by a hegemonic society. “My intent is never to shock, but to expose injustice and exercise freedom of expression.”
Freedom of Expression Institute director Elston Seppie said: “It is sad that her work was removed, since there is no crime in posing nude; nor can tearing pages from the Bible be considered a crime. It might be offensive to Christians, but so is swearing and premarital sex. Many artists do significantly different things to illustrate their points of view. And so should she.”