More than just meh; it’s offensive

2014-06-29 15:00

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Cape Town artist Alice Mann’s portrait series, Domestic Bliss, has received a lot of attention on the interwebs – mostly of the “WTFF” or “meh” variety.

It is time to call these images out for exactly what they are: offensive. They depict yet another story of black domestic workers in the wealthier suburbs of the republic by the sea.

Hashtag original. Not.

And while Mann might think she has encouraged critical discussion on the subject, these women are simply props in a story about her own white privilege.

In the rationale on her website, Mann tries to explain the complexity of the relationship between domestic workers and their workplaces, but the images do not in any way reflect this nuance.

Instead, we are presented with nondescript black faces, with no sense of the value or identity of the women.

We are not offered their surnames. Their African first names are not even used. They’re just more Sophies and Sheilas.

We see the domestic workers sitting in the kitchen or lying on an impeccably made bed, staring apparently contentedly into the camera. There is no irony, no context, no critique.

Maybe Octavia and the others are thrilled with their position in these white homes, but I think this is highly unlikely. What is much closer to reality is that these women leave these images and these homes, and return to the unequal reality of the society we live in.

The series is certainly not about their domestic bliss.

It’s about the bliss that these women allow their employers to enjoy.

Mann, other artists and the spaces that publish their work should not be able to ride roughshod over women like this in favour of a touching, post-apartheid narrative.

See the work at alicemann.co.za

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