In Oratile Papi Konopi’s Ene, masculinity is overexposed with nowhere to hide

Oratile Papi Konopi links up with Gyre to create ‘Ênê,’ an exhibition designed to make men confront their masculinity

I think it’s fair to say that the last place you can expect to find a gaggle of Braam kids on a Friday night is at an art gallery. But this gallery is different (it’s wedged under a university residence) and so is the exhibition it is housing, Ênê: The matrix of masculinities by inter-discplinary visual artist, Oratile Papi Konopi.

It’s perhaps also fair to say that the Braam kids who are here tonight are of a different breed. Either that or they’re fiercely loyal to Konopi, whose exhibition is running 50 minutes behind its scheduled 6pm start time. Though visibly and audibly irritable, when the doors of Braamfontein’s The Point of Order finally open, the entire room’s focus is fixated on the work at hand and for good reason. This is an exhibition launch designed to etch itself into the far flung corners of your long-term memory.

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Enlisting Gyre to help bring the matrix of his masculinity thesis to life, Konopi fills the vast majority of the exhibition space with a web made of wool strings. His work, which hangs suspended from the ceiling, features out of focus portraits of the black male body bound by the same string seen in the space,  juxtaposed with illustrations of props designed for masculine certification like a suitcase, okapi, and even a Bible.

In a statement, the exhibition describes its aim as “contributing to and expanding the ongoing discourse surrounding gender, masculinity, patriarchy, allied black feminism in contemporary South Africa.” Konopi and Gyre’s contemporary dance within the wooly web seeks to invoke just that by making the audience voyeurs of the self-consuming world of masculinity.

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I managed to catch Gyre after the initial launch performance was up and the good news is that the plan is to take Ênê to the township where these shows rarely set foot in. The bad or sad news is, if you weren’t there to see the whole thing on Friday night (8 June), you can’t stop by to see it anymore — it was kind of a once-off thing, for that space anyway. No immediate details on where to catch it next but you can watch what went down in this video I put together for you below.

Well, what do you think?