Gerald Machona, MFA student in the Fine Art Department and member of the “Visual and Performing Arts of Africa” Mellon Focus Area team led by Professor Ruth Simbao, recently participated in two exhibitions at prestigious galleries: The Goodman Gallery in Cape Town and the Brodie/Stevenson Gallery in Johannesburg.
Machona came to Rhodes at the beginning of this year after completing an undergraduate degree at Michaelis School of Art, UCT.
The group exhibition, A Night Show, at the Goodman Gallery aimed to be “a frenetic event-night that showcases site-specific, installation-oriented, time-based and performative works” (www.goodman-gallery.com).For this show Machona produced a performance piece, Ndiri Bouncer (I am a bouncer).
Dressed in black, with the word “SECURITY” boldly printed across a tight-fitted muscle top, he wielded a metal detector and stopped over fifty gallery-goers at the Goodman Gallery door. It was not the black militant gear that was most threatening about this character, but rather the elaborately constructed mask made from Zimbabwean dollars that concealed his face.
After an economic meltdown a large surplus of valueless currency filled the streets of Zimbabwe, so Machona collected and began using this obsolete currency as an aesthetic material in his art.
The bouncer exposed people to intrusive personal questions, random searches and invasive probing. Gallery-goers ended up telling jokes, offering bribes, or even exchanging items of clothing to get past the gatekeeper who controlled access to this public space.
Machona’s work deals with issues of migration, xenophobia and stereotyping, and he often performs occupations that are pursued by Zimbabweans and other ‘foreigners’ in South Africa. As Machona says, “My art is fascinated with the various ways in which identity is constructed in our societies, primarily that of the foreigner, migrant or outsider”. He has also performed recently as a barman, a DJ and a cleaner.
Machona is currently participating in the group exhibition, The Geography of Somewhere at the Brodie/Stephenson Gallery in Johannesburg as well.
Lerato Bereng, who is also a member of the Focus Area research team and an MFA candidate at Rhodes, assisted in the organising of this exhibition as a curator at Brodie/Stevenson. In this exhibition Machona displays a video and still photographs of a performance he produced in Harare in 2010. One of the photographs is entitled, AmaidoendakuJoburg ne Mari Ye-bepa (Mother I am goin to Joburg with Paper Money), and shows Machona performing as a cross-border trader, again wearing one of his signature Zimbabwean dollar masks. The dance that he performs in the video is reminiscent of the traditional Malawian spectacle known as GuleWamkulu, which is also performed by Chewa people who have migrated to Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
At times these migrant workers are given names such asmabwidiormablantire, and Machona considers how they enter into a new society and negotiate cultural and ethnic tensions. According to Machona, “In creating these performances in South Africa my aim was to create dialogue with various local audiences in an attempt to challenge attitudes of intolerance towards these newcomers. It is an attempt to reconstruct new identities based on economic and occupational practices and not derogatory stereotyping such as Makwerekwere”.
Machona’s will be performing at the Rhodes International Day Parade on Friday 20 May.
Photo: Gerald Machona, performing as a bouncer, blocks Dr Rael Salley at the entrance to the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town.
Source: Rhodes University
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