The Johannesburg-based artist makes us laugh, and then cry, with her London solo show Lust Politics
Upon entering London’s Tyburn Gallery to view Lady Skollie’s first international solo show, Lust Politics, who greets you, other than the artist herself – bag of fish & chips in one hand, the other waving a warm hello – is the Kween Mother. The artist has painted a huge mural especially for the exhibition envisioning Khoisan royalty with bright orange flesh and sunny yellow hair. She wears a Josephine Baker-style banana skirt, her legs are akimbo and her pose is vulnerable. Yet with five long arms outstretched and the figures of her ancestors dancing around her halo, this queen’s power and majesty radiate from each stroke, leaving no doubt whose boss here.
On the other white walls of the gallery hang equally bright and mystical beings reclining against the night sky, or prints of ripe and juicy paw paws, apples and more bananas, which mingle with phallic shapes. The first impression is one of decadence and intoxication but look closer at some of the titles of these works, such as Cut-Cut Kill-Kill Stab-Stab – A South African Love Story, and a more real world reading hits you between the eyes. What at first seems saucy soon reveals itself to be a passionate exploration of gender roles, sexual violence and the objectification of the female body in contemporary South African society.
Skollie, otherwise known as Laura Windvogel, was born in 1987 in Cape Town and studied at the city’s Michaelis School of Fine Art. She started out by hosting radio talk shows and sex education parties and making zines, all the while creating provocative and erotic paintings. Needless to say, she soon got noticed. She had her first solo show in 2014 and has exhibited widely across South Africa in major spaces including Stevenson Gallery, Worldart Gallery and Gallery MOMO. Her moniker? Well, that means shady character, a term historically used to describe a person of colour in a place where they are unwanted by its white inhabitants. But she doesn’t need to adopt a character to say it how she sees it today. Here, Skollie let’s rip...
I’ve always wanted to do an international solo show. I’ve had opportunities before but it never felt right. My career needed more time in South Africa in general. Then Tyburn Gallery tested the waters with my work at the 1:54 art fair, which went well, so we decided to capitalise on the momentum. I work super hard and fast so I produced the show in two months. This is the first time I’ve worked on such a large scale too, which was very freeing for me and has taken my work to another level.
I’m interested in concepts of lust, greed and power and how we use sex and gender roles weapons. It’s a political thing to be a woman on South Africa, regardless of race, gender or background. We have unprecedented levels of abuse and rape that aren’t taken seriously by the authorities. It’s almost like a narrative that has been erased meanwhile all the resentment and hurt and sickness is just building. So I want to be a mouthpiece. I’m that dirty auntie skollie who says all the shit you’ve been thinking but never admitted to. That’s what this show is about. It’s coaxing things out of you with a bright and sunny disposition. Humour is a perceptive vehicle for social change. People hate being preached to but they’ll listen if you wrap it up in sexy.
Don’t Worry About It: Around Here RED MEANS GO! This piece is about consent. In South Africa consent is such a blurred thing. People spend time in jail for attempted rape and people will say ‘I don’t know why she even pressed charges, it’s not like he raped her.’ One in every four women has been a victim of sexual violence. Yet both victim and perpetrator don’t know what to call this thing.
Sometimes Reluctantly I Reflect Upon All The Times I Allowed My Pussy To Be Colonised. This piece is about the fact that it’s a funny thing to be a coloured woman in South Africa. You often date a lot of white men. You think you have power but in the end you realise that your agency might not be as expansive as you thought it was. So this painting is about me starting to realise that. Say no to pink dick!
They’ll Suck You Dry, Beware. This piece is about Princess Krotoa, who was the first translator between the Dutch colonisers and her Khoi tribe. She married a Dutch man and descended into alcoholism because her people didn’t trust her anymore. She had three mixed race children with him. When he died his protection of her died too so she was sent to Robben Island until she died. This plays into coloured identity today. We go to white schools and try to assimilate to whiteness, which is a result of apartheid, but can’t assimilate too much. Your success has limits. So my princess wears a collar but it’s broken. She is surrounded by yoni-shaped moons and has more than two arms, which is a comment on how women are expected to be a whole bunch of things at once - a bad bitch, independent, soft for her man. I’d be fine to be all of those things if men were expected to have multiple roles too, but they’re not.
I’ll often fill sheets with pussy prints. It’s a palette cleanser. It clears my mind and opens me up to create something new. Also this repetition is a huge part of Khoi culture. Repetition of trance, of being in a state where you do something over and over, achieves calmness.
What I hope Londoners take away from Lust Politics is an authentic South African energy. I want them to feel my striving for identity and I don’t think you can talk about the UK and South Africa without talking about colonisation and the Khoisan traditions that were destroyed by it. I was on MTV Africa yesterday and they were like, Lady Skollie – colonising London! I don’t want to colonise you all but I’m not here to beg. I’m here to immerse you, bombard you, force this in your face. I’m not asking you to like it. I’m telling you that you will like it. It’s a very cathartic thing to come here and show people what I’m into, what I love, where I come from. So maybe London can have some catharsis through me, too.
I’ve never wanted to be anything else other than an artist. My first thought was to draw. I always drew dicks on everything. At Michaelis the art they taught didn’t make sense to me so I was like fine, maybe I’m not going to be an artist. Then learning art history changed my course completely. It made me realise I didn’t have to be the type of artist Michaelis was telling me I had to be in order to be successful. After college I worked as a gallery assistant for two years because you can only conquer things if you know how they work structurally. Back then my work was much more gratuitous but after a while I realised I had to be more strategic about how I wrapped up my messages. So here I am, bright and loud and on Instagram.
Lady Skollie’s Lust Politics is on show at Tyburn Gallery, London, until 4 March 2017
Buy a special edition screen print of the Khoisan Kween Mother with Partnership Editions here.