New Durban exhibition, ‘Beauty and its Beasts’, examines female stereotypes

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Mary Sibande’s Cry Havoc. Photo courtesy of the artist and Gallery MOMO.

Running at the Durban Art Gallery until May 28 is the exhibition ‘Beauty and its Beasts’, which asks the question: Has the female stereotype changed?

The permanent collections of the gallery have been excavated to unearth works that speak directly to the evolution of the female stereotype. Where gaps were identified works have been borrowed from other collections.

‘Beauty and its Beasts’ examines how the stereotype was created and how artists have either perpetuated the phenomenon or subverted it.  The viewer will be guided by the wall text identifying themes and it is here the voices of the collaborators bring resonance and add strata to the selections.

Works borrowed from other art collections include Mary Sibande’s Cry Havoc and Zanele Muholi’s Condoms & Feet – contemporary pieces that sit provocatively alongside Hubert von Herkomer’s Queen Victoria.

Speaking about the exhibition, the DAG’s Jenny Stretton says: “What’s in a stereotype, it’s a label to enhance or reduce an ego, and rarely one’s own choice.

“Some stereotypes are flattering but more often they are used to insult or belittle. Stereotype is a notion based on prejudice rather than fact which by repetition and with time, stereotypes become fixed in people’s minds. 

“The famous art collective ‘Guerilla Girls’ describe a stereotype as: a box, usually too small that a girl gets jammed into and an archetype as a pedestal usually too high that a girl gets lifted onto.”

Stereotypes are born in utero, from the time a child is born it is gender coded through clothing and the colours assigned to the objects around it. As a girl grows she will encounter stereotypes at every stage of her life.

Stereotypes are also born in popular culture and have a strong connection to language and graphic design. The media, TV, Facebook, magazines, the internet, music and newspapers are the most influential practitioners of stereotyping and wield enormous power over this projection.

‘Beauty and its Beasts’ is curated by Jenny Stretton with collaboration from Jessica Bothma; Carol Brown; Nindya Bucktowar; Zinhle Khumalo; Sinethemba Ngubane; Osmosisliza; Fran Saunders and Swany.

Works have been loaned from Campbell Collections, University of KwaZulu-Natal; Everard Read CIRCA Cape Town; GALLERYMOMO, Cape Town; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg and the UNISA Permanent Collection, Pretoria.

Gallery hours: Monday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 4pm and Sundays from 11am to 4pm.

School groups are welcome to use this exhibition as a visual tool for debate around issues of gender, prejudice and stereotypes. Special educational guided walkabouts can be arranged on request.

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