I don’t just live my life, I create my life. And after almost a year of creating images reflecting my vision of the city and its inhabitants, I no longer just want to reflect the city, but create it. Just as I need to be an activist in my own life and my own identity to fully be alive, as an artist, I need to be an artivist, actively participating in the creation of the city I want to live in. Joburg is not just a city, it is my city; it is my home. And as an artivist it is not just a place I want to live in, but a place I actively want to participate in creating.The idea for #takingbackourcity was born out of my return to Joburg from my first real visit to Cape Town. My return to Jozi from CT shocked me with the everyday messages and symbols we Joburgers take for granted; the messages and symbols that shape the collective unconscious of our city and our people. The ‘Penis Enlargement’ posters that adorn every robot, electrical box and street pole were the most glaring example. I asked myself: what does this say about Joburg? what does this say about Joburgers?
We are a city obsessed with the power of the phallus; a presidency obsessed with the symbol and virility and representation of the phallus; a people whose penis size reflects its masculinity, whose masculinity reflects its identity. The effect of this overtly embodied and gendered mantra on our collective unconscious plays itself out in our lives daily.
More so than with other cultures, Joburg constantly genders us. It equates our identity with our gender, places our gendered attributes – our penises, our breasts – under the microscope, and finds us wanting. Those who are found wanting and those who pass the grade play out the script of the power struggle that has been written for us. And as with the Battle of the Sexes in decades before us, the Battle of the Genders brings with it a long, long casualty list. Being part of the female-bodied and -gendered community, as well as the LGBTIQ community, from where so many of the casualties come, I cannot be part of an existence or an art that hides behind the privilege of aesthetic.
Those of you who follow my work know that I believe that gender is nothing more than a social construction and that I perform my gender through my identity and my art daily. But playing with gender and bearing witness to the daily reality of my and others’ lives as queers in my writing and images is not enough. How do I as a queer artist respond to the overt gendering of our city; the grossly embodied sexing of the spirit of Joburg?
I need to take responsibility for the city I want to live in and actively participate in creating it. I need to undermine the gendering of the city and its inhabitants with more than just my existence and my documentation of my play with gender and identity, more than just through my collaborations with others who do the same.
‘Taking Back our City’ is thus this journey of active and creative participation in my city. I hope that you will follow my journey and join me in taking our city back.
© Germaine de Larch Images. First published on http://www.life-writ-large.posterous.com