I’ve been thinking about Lawrence Lemaoana’s Dancers on the Wall (2009) contribution to the Art Fair quite a bit. It’s hard not to when you’re faced with it almost everywhere you turn, be it spread across the walls or across the chests of official Art Fair t-shirt clad visitors. It seems an entirely bizarre and somewhat anachronistic concept for the design, after all 2008 was the year of Zuma in South African art (and indeed the year whence the design first reared its floral-tessellated head as a piece titled Newsmaker of the Year). Sponsored by St Leger & Viney (“manufacturers of high end domestic furniture, wall fabric and wallpaper”) Lemaoana’s design was selected after a shortlist show-down with Conrad Botes. One can’t help but wonder what the content of Botes’ design was.
Anyway, prior to this year’s Art Fair I’d never come across Lemaoana’s work. Having researched it a tad, I must say that I’m quite fond of it. His 2008 Brodie/Stevenson exhibition ‘Fortune Telling in Black, Red and White’ seems to be a sharp, witty look at masculinity and the cult of the media constructed through textiles and embroidery. The question is whether his work remains as droll post-Industry mass-production. In the Business Day’s March 2010 ‘Wanted’ supplement it is suggested that Lemaoana’s project “promises to be decorative and provocative in equal measures”.
But is this the case? And how? Does the image of a dancing Zuma still maintain the capacity to instill provocation as opposed to nonchalant groans? These days he seems to spend far more time reluctantly forking over Lifestyle-Audit business interest declarations than Mashini Wamming. Which perhaps is what allows the work to continue being interesting. The image is now so far removed both from popular opinion of the man and from its original context that it’s plunged head-first into that peculiar realm of simulacra-esque Pop Art generally reserved for Che Guevara and André the Giant; albeit on a far smaller scale. But is it a case of “Ceci n’est pas un President” (apologies to Brett Murray) or free ANC advertising? And then of course there’s that polygamy thing.
The dilemma plays into Lemaoana’s game quite nicely. One of his recurring themes has been the problematically passive relationship between the media and the masses, specifically looking at the similarities between newspaper headline posters and propaganda. Continuing that theme, there’s certainly something to be said about the sight of the discerning art-buying masses voluntarily donning the image of Zuma on an official Art Fair shirt simply because they’re there, function as merchandise and are available for purchase. Rewind to 2009, how many find themselves attired in “Working Together We Can Do More”? Still, the fact that the poor uniformed Art Fair staff have no choice as to whether or not they want to wear the shirt is something of an issue.
On a lighter note, the Art Talks room is sporting the design on a snazzy set of curtains. Perhaps a shower curtain edition is in order?