As a Masters student, I am researching the idea of gender performativity by focusing on the construction of masculinities, and the performance thereof, this with the aim of contributing to the strategic reversal of gender prejudices. The performance piece, 40RTY, is a practical realization of some of that research. Anticipation of violence, fear of being dominated, the devaluation of anything related to the feminine; these are characteristic of the harsh socialization processes which boys undergo from their earliest years. In this way boys learn to perform the male identity. At the core of masculinity and what it means to be a man, is fear, which must be overcome repeatedly by proving one’s masculinity. It is a refutation of all that is feminine and as a result masculinity is in a constant state of crisis. These processes inform my performance piece. I present a performance of masculinity within a gallery space and within an installation created specifically for the piece. In order to prepare myself for the performance I undertook a gruelling 40-day fast: “a period of testing, trial and probation”. Its purpose is not only to purify the body but to construct the state of mind required to present a performance art piece. The great performance artist icon, Marina Abramovi?, prepares in a similar fashion. I selected one of the most masculine of rituals, shaving, subverting it to challenge perceptions and prejudices of the gender.
My concept, informed by my review of literature for my Masters, was to explore Judith Butler’s idea of performativity by presenting a performance of masculinity. I decided on what is generally considered one of the most masculine of rituals; the shaving of the face. There is a certain intimacy associated with the ritual as well as aspects of purification and silent introspection. I chose to subvert the ritual by waxing my face instead of shaving it, and in this way, as I mention in my press release, I hoped to challenge perceptions of gender. This was my starting point.
Acknowledging the semiotic, political, ethnographic, cartographic and mythical implications associated with my living, breathing body, I looked at a way to magnify/amplify this with the use of ritual, artefacts, symbols, sacred space and significant gesture. I began with a 40-day fast and the creation of my sacred space. My installation piece had to provide an intimate and sacred space within the gallery for me to perform within and yet to also allow the viewer to have access to it. The two-way glass allowed for this duality. I made certain that I could control the light in the gallery and then installed a single globe in the roof of my installation. This could be turned on, or off, by pulling a cord hanging down. Essentially the audience enters a dark room which is only lit once I pull the cord in the installation. However, I can’t see them but they are able to see me. The light within my installation changes the glass to mirrors while the audience can see through it because they are, quite literally, in the dark. In this way I immediately subvert the male gaze. I further implicate the viewer in the performance by having the gallerist hand out masks as they enter the space which they can choose to wear or not. The installation frame itself is welded metal bars and is reminiscent of (these are things some of the viewers told me after my performance) a pulpit, a Ratel (the basic infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) of the South African Defence Force) a coffin and armour or fortress. All thought it very masculine.
Within the sacred space I waxed my face with wax-strips. These strips, because they have to be warmed between the hands, aid in the idea of ritual as it makes me appear to be praying or in the act of supplication (the action of asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly) myself. In the quiet, darkened space I had a soundtrack playing which I created using several layers of recordings I made of myself praying, chanting and whispering. I also whispered words like “baby”, “baby boy”, “cry-baby”, “girl”, “faggot”, “mommy’s boy”, “soutpiel”, “”queer”, “white boy” and “mlungu”. I wasn’t certain that it would work but the audience said they found it very unnerving. I positioned the installation in the room so that the audience would have 360 degree access to my performance but interestingly they all chose to stay in front of me. Only the photographer I hired moved about freely.