So in my previous post I shared some of the artwork I created for a fundraising auction for the rape victims support group called GRIP. Dealing with such a horrific theme set me thinking about this whole culture of rape and how it is possible for a person to do such a thing. It is just terrible that the thing men fear the most about being incarcerated is what women have to deal with every day of their lives: the possibility of being raped.
Here are some things you should know:
When Interpol released the staggering statistic that one in two women living in South Africa will be raped in her life, the South African Police Services stopped releasing rape statistics. Instead the authorities began categorizing rape under sexual violence. The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) states that only one in 13 rape cases are reported. An estimated of 500,000 rape cases take place in this country, every year! It is also estimated that only 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted in South Africa.
Horrific! But why are we surprised? We have a president who was accused of rape himself! This was by a woman known as Khwezi, a well-known HIV-positive activist and lesbian daughter of one of Zuma’s old comrades. She was forced to leave the country in the wake of the trial. Zuma, who was deputy president at the time, was acquitted by the courts. Gee, what a surprise! As we have found out since, our President Zuma is, by all accounts, a man of exceedingly low morals.
This low moral character appears to be endemic in our politicians and government officials. When discussing the problematic situation regarding rapes on our Rhodes University campus, our Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, advocate Michael Masutha walked out mid-interview on the SABC television programme, Checkpoint’s Nkepile Mabuse. This happened after Mabuse, the interviewer, asked Masutha how being an assertive woman links to rape, following his comment about rape and assertiveness. The minister later said he meant that assertive women were more likely to report rape cases. Idiot!
There is a history of violence at both ends of the political spectrum in this country and this has added to the toxicity of South African masculinities. Back in the old Apartheid days both sides were prone to hyper-masculinity: the anti-Apartheid activists as well as the white tribes of South Africa. This has not really changed much. Rape is about power and subjugation, the masculine dominating the feminine.
In a lecture about performance art I gave recently, I addressed the issue of rape with my students using the work of two artists. One is a personal hero of mine and a huge inspiration in my work, Ana Mendieta. While still a student in March 1973 she was deeply affected by the brutal rape and murder of nursing student, Sarah Ann Ottens, at the University of Iowa. In response to the attack on Otten, by another student, Mendieta invited her fellow students to her apartment where, through a door left purposefully ajar, they found her tied to a table and smeared with blood. This tableau recreated the scene as reported in the press. Later, Mendieta recalled that her audience “all sat down, and started talking about it. I didn’t move. I stayed in position about an hour. It really jolted them.” She further commented that the rape had ‘moved and frightened’ her: “I think all my work has been like that – a personal response to a situation … I can’t see being theoretical about an issue like that.” She said that she created the work “as a reaction against the idea of violence against women”.
The second artist , Emma Sulkowicz, references Mendieta’s piece more than 40 years later. A victim of rape at the hands of a fellow student after a party, Sulkowicz, after following all due processes without success, performed the endurance piece, Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) (2014–2015). For 9 months (the length of a pregnancy) she carried a campus mattress around the university with her. Sulkowicz stated that the piece would end when the student she alleged raped her in her dorm room in 2012 was expelled from or otherwise left the university. This did not happen and she attended her graduation ceremony with the mattress. The President of the university, Lee Bollinger, in a hissy fit brought on by Emma carrying the mattress onto the stage, refused to shake her hand when she received her degree.
The reason I selected these 2 works to speak to the students about is not just because I feel that we should be addressing the problem of the rape culture we live in. We so obviously should! I also wanted to illustrate how really personal and extremely invasive these works were. Both artists used their own living spaces and their own bodies in very a publicised way to speak about something that they felt very strongly about. And this is the power of performance art, the fact that it is so very personal and that there is little remove between artist and viewer. It is a living art and this is the major reason why I have involved myself so completely in it. There is no other art form that will take you so very far out your comfort zone as performance art will do. And your work will be all the better for it. For me it is a starting point from where I can speak about and address so many issues. But I always begin with myself and performance. This ensures that I do not speak for others, I speak for myself. It is my voice and my conviction, and I believe that makes all the difference.
All this talk of these awful things made me think of one of my favourite poems:
I once knew a girl who loved
Things most people shun.
Every man she ever loved was
Terrible to her, terrible
I tell you.
But there was something
About them that intrigued
Her – she liked broken things,
To her, if there was
Nothing to fix there was
Nothing to love.
– Christopher Poindexter