All nudes is good nudes

2010-01-22 15:35

Sita Moyo's representation of the male body through various forms of media aims to hold the viewer to an intense gaze, taking the focus of erotic fascination away from the female body and placing it directly on to the man. Two years after she began this project at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Moyo's first professional solo exhibition, aptly titled Show me his, opens at artSPACE Durban this Monday.

The exhibition draws together a variety of media that Moyo has been working on while completing her Master of Arts degree and comprises oil-on-canvass, watercolours, extreme close-up photography and a video-animation.

My favourite aspect of Moyo's work is her animation. I remember seeing Fall from Grace in 2005, which was initially screened at the Teheran International Animation Festival earlier that year. The one showing in Durban, titled In Her Own Image, debates the ideology of the creator. “There are so many stories where the man creates the woman as a companion and she becomes a child as well as a lover,” Moyo says. “I have moved on to the idea that she is alone, like a deity figure, and she is an autonomous female.”

Moyo's home in Scottsville is jam-packed with art when I visit her earlier this week. Moyo immediately offers me coffee, something the artist confesses she is constantly on. Pointing to some of her incomplete watercolours, Moyo explains her desire to capture men with their pants down, so to speak. “Apart from them being extremely beautiful,” she teasingly says, “their bodies also have their own personalities.

“Professional models are almost plastic they are so perfect, but my models aren't like that,” she says. “It is their unique physical aspects that I find so interesting.”

Her husband, Arifani Moyo, a well-known actor in Pietermaritzburg, stands hesitantly aside while we speak. He seems completely comfortable with Sita's remarks over her models, so I ask her how she can celebrate their nudity so openly. “I'm a professional. I'm not personally attracted to my subjects, although a few of us do have close friendships,” she says. “There is a slight awkwardness that is quite distancing; looking at photos of naked men all day while painting changes how you view them. So there is definitely a focus there.”

Arifani and Sita met at the university and have always shared a great bond through art. “Ari and I are very connected artistically and we are able to challenge each other when we attempt to break through barriers,” Moyo says. “I have also been lucky to use him as one of my models, because I can keep him in one place far longer than the others. But when he poses, it is strictly artistic.”

On the small space we find, Moyo spreads out a selection of photos, warning me that although they are meant to titillate, the extreme close-up shots are far more significant in the way they demystify the symbols of the phallus and pubis. Using close-up shots of Arifani and herself for this segment was a challenge for Moyo. “I have huge issues with being nude,” she says. But with titles such as Peek-a-boo inscribed on the frame, they are also a break from the seriousness of her oils and watercolours.

Moyo's life-size paintings include post-coital imagery as well as constructed poses of symbolic profiles. Local art critic Matthew Partridge says the dialogue established between the viewer and the subject in regard to these paintings exists in the self-conscious realm of how to negotiate masculine nudity. Partridge, who will be speaking at the opening in Durban, adds that Moyo's work articulates her desires, but also complicates and challenges the viewer's conception of desire. “It achieves this by destabilising traditional hierarchies of representation to suggest an alternate frame for the erotically charged nude,” he says.

Instead of siding with the third wave of feminist thought on out-right banning nude imagery to promote female equality, Moyo believes there should be a shared gaze of both forms. “People who look have a lot more power than people who are being looked at,” she says. “But I have taken quite a cautious look at the comfort levels of viewing nudity.”

“Feminists want the gaze abolished,” she says. “I want it shared, because an exchange of the gaze would break down barriers of sexuality far better.”

•Sita Moyo's Show me his runs at artSPACE Durban, 3 Millar Road, Durban from July 30 to August 18. Phone 031) 312 0793 for more details.

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