On the 18th of August, the Nelson Mandela Foundation hosted the launch of a new temporary exhibition by the Vortex artists, Shui-Lyn White and Christiaan Diedericks. Infinity to the Power of Women is an exhibition of eight artworks that iconise and honour South African women that significantly contributed to establishing democracy in South Africa.
In the words of Vortex, the exhibition “refers to how women’s stories may be forgotten and then remembered; may be lost and then found. Yet, whether forgotten or lost for a time, they are always with us, waiting to be resurfaced.” With the exhibition, we remember their work, their brilliance, and their dedication.
In her keynote address, Alice Brown, who also serves on the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s board of trustees, reflected on the social, economic and political conditions in which women in South Africa find themselves.
“August is a period to reflect upon and acknowledge the ways in which progress has not been made. Indeed, the month provides yet another opportunity to advocate for stronger and more extensive protection and promotion of women’s rights.”
Ms Brown invited us to reflect on three disturbing figures that are well reported. “In South Africa’s largest corporations, women in top leadership positions earn 72 cents for every 1 Rand earned by their male counterparts”; “One study based on samples from Gauteng Province found that 51 per cent of the women surveyed reported that they have experienced gender-based violence”; and “women account for nearly 63 per cent of all new HIV infections.”
From these figures, it is easy to become despondent. However, we cannot ignore the significance of the progress won. As Ms Brown illustrated, “since 1994, South Africa has repealed nearly all laws that discriminate against women, and the judiciary has ruled against policies and practices that unfairly discriminate against women on the basis of motherhood, sexual orientation or other factors.”; “there has been a major reduction of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This is a major success due to better surveillance at antenatal clinics and the widespread use of prophylactic HIV medications.”; and “there are more women than men enrolled in tertiary education with women comprising 52.3 per cent of university enrolment compared to their male counterparts who make up 47.7 per cent.”
Abiding the launch, we hosted a dialogue reflecting on the exhibition and Women’s Month in South between Shui-Lyn White, Cheryl Carolus & Alice Brown, facilitated by Kneo Mokgopa. Ms Carolus described the founding of the United Women’s Organisation and how it worked to significantly advanced the cause for the liberation of women, especially politically and in terms of passing legislation that protects women from discrimination.
The discussion took a critical turn during the Q&A with the audience and turned to the question of women and patriarchy. The discussion illustrated how patriarchy also co-opts women into consenting to it as much as men and other genders, and how women are just as capable as anybody else of advancing patriarchy. What we learnt was that the fact of not being a man does not in and of itself equip one with anti-patriarchy, anti-misogyny and anti-sexist perspectives and tools, and how the work of liberation must include pedagogy in gender and anti-patriarchy work.
Infinity to the Power of Women will be on exhibition at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory until February 2023. You are welcome to book a guided tour with us here. Please visit our Goodwill Collection store at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory where you can purchase merchandise from the exhibition and support the work of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.