Sharlene Khan

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Sharlene Khan's MPhil/PhD Art research project

Postcolonial masquerading: a critical analysis of masquerading strategies in the artworks of contemporary South African visual artists Anton Kannemeyer, Tracey Rose, Mary Sibande, Senzeni Marasela and Nandipha Mntambo (2015)

This thesis analyses the masquerading strategies employed in the artworks of contemporary South African visual artists Anton Kannemeyer, Tracey Rose, Senzeni Marasela, Mary Sibande and Nandipha Mntambo. Masquerading, in this context, refers to the donning of costumes, make-up and the use of props, in staging one’s own body before the camera lens.

This study examines contemporary debates in South Africa around such visual art masquerading performances which have questioned notions of identity, autobiography and memory. The first chapter plots the reactivation of blackface masquerades in artwork by young White South African artists, and examines the mechanisms of parodic humour and joke-work in accessing inhibited pleasure through racial stereotypes.

The second chapter explores psychoanalytic (Western, black and African), feminist and postcolonial theories on masquerading, and looks at the concepts of mimicry, masking, repetition, and violence as markers of this terrain. The works of Frantz Fanon and Homi K. Bhabha are used to explore racial power relations, but also the possibilities of masquerading as subversive of authorised knowledge in postcolonial contexts.

Bhabha’s ideas of mimicry-as-mockery, hybridity and ambivalence, as well as black feminist ideas of creative theorisation, are used to frame the masquerading strategies of the four South African women-of-colour artists under discussion in the third chapter, which demonstrates how Rose, Marasela, Sibande and Mntambo engage masquerade as an analytic tool to centralise women-of-colour narratives and personal politicisation as starting points of theorisation.

This research attempts to evidence the concept of ‘postcolonial masquerading’ as an important critical aesthetic tool in black feminist and decolonialising discourses in postcolonial societies. My own practical video engagements employ postcolonial masquerading to interrogate my identity as a South African Indian woman visual artist, actively exploring strategies of mimicry, masking, repetition and ambivalence as tools to voice my subjective position and history framed by apartheid, post-apartheid and postcoloniality.