In the new poster, a staunch looking woman, apparently of revolutionary persuasion, replete with beret and nose ring, stares out above the slogan “We live in silence.”
However accustomed we are to seeing archival images from the civil rights movement in America, of women in the Black Panthers, this is an image of someone in Johannesburg or Harare, now. It’s familiarly old yet new – and nobody would question its possibility.
In his essay Black Power Next Door: Hip hop and Chiurai’s work, fellow artist Nolan Oswald Dennis tells us that in his early figurative art, set mostly in the Johannesburg urban landscape, Chiurai reflects on the image of the supposedly “angry black man” in the hip hop tradition.
“These figures, and their representative traditions within hip hop, are not opposed: instead they work in tandem, cross pollinating and remixing the image of black resistance. Like the hip hop producer absorbing anything of use-value into the construction of meaning, in this struggle everything is fair game,” Dennis writes.
Fair game would include placing women in the roles of men where male stereotypes would usually be found. Thus the stern-looking woman on the book’s cover bearing the slogan that anger is fraught with silence. I guess we’re supposed to question for how long it can go on.
There’s something of an oblique reference to the silent protest staged by women activists, last year, in support of the late Fezeka Khuzwao, known as Khwezi, who accused the president of rape a decade ago.
But the thing that works in his favour is Chiurai’s refusal to portray women as victims. In an earlier interview he told me that “there are amazing images in the archive of Zimbabwean women carrying guns – training in long skirts and like doing their marches; learning how to shoot. Those are extraordinary images and we never really see them. There are also similar images that you’d find in Guinea-Bissau.”
“Then we never see those images at all. You always find the black intellectual comes out on top. The black male intellectual is always the one that comes out on top. That’s the most popular image.”
I asked Zeitz Mocaa assistant curator Mashiqa whether it is all right for Chiurai to be appropriating the female image for his work. Especially while there is discussion raging about the appropriation of black imagery and narratives by whites. What about men speaking on behalf of women?
“I think you can, in your work, take an alternative identity as a man,” Mashiqa said. “This is like a fictional world that Kudzanai is trying to create in his work – having these women as active participants, whether in religion or in politics.”