Lady Skollie is a provocateur, and thank heavens for that.
Born Laura Windvogel she has adopted the moniker that very well captures her public persona and, by a long way, her first ever solo exhibition outside of her native South Africa called Lust Politics at Tyburn Gallery in London.
“Skollie,” in South Africa, is a derogatory term for a non-white person which she has subverted by placing “lady” before it, repurposing the insult as she sees fit.
“Lady” takes the sting away from “Skollie”, and if read the other way, makes less dull or proprietary, the word “Skollie.” This symbiotic-symbolism applies to the title-phrase Lust Politics.
The sexual and sensual are by turns celebrated and the assumptions around it investigated including taboos, consent, gender expectations amongst other weighty concerns—all done employing crayon, watercolor and ink, hardly the weapons of mass intellectual destruction and reformation she has turned them into.
On entering Tyburn Gallery for Lady Skollie’s new exhibition, the first work one sees, Khoisan Kween Mother, is the most imposing, hung directly opposite the entrance.
Before it and tucked under the staircase that leads from the receptionist desk and her sneer of a smile is On the subject of consent ‘Don’t worry about it; around here RED MEANS GO,’ on which is a cluster of red apples, some cut in half.
I ask Ms. Skollie if, considering the title, there was strategic thinking in hanging it close to the entrance.
“I guess if you post-rationalize it, yes. The strangest thing about consent in SA is that it hardly exists; culturally women do not have the agency to say yes, no or please,” she says. “We kind of just take what we get regardless of our input. I mean that sexually, emotionally, intellectually; our consent doesn’t really matter, so do what you want.”
Cut-cut, kill-kill, stab-stab is, among other things, a critique of female genital mutilation (FGM) and seeing it was one of very few instances where a painting spoke strongly or simply crystallized the problem for me.
My brain wants to believe it is the most “serious” painting here, but that is probably because the protests against FGM is a current one while the sexuality explored in other paintings is old and continuous, and that is probably why my objection to it isn’t as immediate.
I ask Ms. Skollie if this is an acceptable reading, to which she says, “It’s funny that you immediately thought of FGM; it’s the most literal way that the onslaught on women takes form. You are right in thinking it is the most ‘serious’ work in the show.” The 18 knives all pointing their sharp edges inches close to a diametrically cut paw paw baring its black core and orange layer is, if not the most serious, then the least playful.
Turns out it is the only work that hasn’t been made specifically for Lust Politics, but as a commission by South Africa’s Mail and Guardian to write about being a woman in South Africa, a very broad scope I would think.
“I woke up that morning about to create something hopeful, sprightly even, and then the first thing I saw in the news was the murder of 5-year-old Kutlwano Garesepe who had tried to fight off a man who was trying to rape his mother on their daily walk to school. The image of a little boy fighting a grown man and then being stabbed to death with a bottle neck and put on the train tracks to add insult to injury summarized the rape state we are currently in.”
The largest painting on display, Khoisan Kween Mother, is also the newest, was started on Tuesday the Jan. 17 and was completed the next day with visitors to the exhibition present. Ms. Skollie unveiled it along with the others works on Thursday, when the exhibition officially opened.
To some, this might come across as showboating, a bid to prove her artistry. But Ms. Skollie courts and embraces public engagement and appears to have little qualms explaining her work—something other artists would balk at, for fear of cheapening or even overselling them, but also to let other find meaning themselves.
In Ms. Skollie’s case, the decision to finish Khoisan Kween Mother before gallery visitors has an added advantage. “I work well under pressure and I wanted to bond with the space and leave my own contemporary version of a Khoisan cave painting but in a U.K. context,” she says.
This brought to mind Kanye West’s epic one night residency at Madison Square Garden last year during which he premiered songs from Life of Pablo and also launch Yeezus 3, the third installment from his fashion label.
All the models did was stand still for over an hour while Kanye sequenced his new songs flanked by friends and acolytes.
Listening to new songs for the first time while they’re being played in a packed stadium won’t encourage deep appreciation of West’s work.
But watching the creator and curator of these two separate and massive projects in the presence of his creation and curation makes the work immediate, and so allows even more scope for appreciation, by fans and onlookers, if not for the final product, then for the effort he has put into it.
Ms. Skollie has little to say about Mr. West’s one night extravaganza, but admits, “Kanye is always an inspiration; I threw a temper tantrum when I didn’t win a competition at the Cape Town Art Fair in 2016 and everyone called me Kaapstad Kanye.”
So the creative lift off from West may have all been in my mind, but as if to strengthen my weak point, I ask Ms. Skollie what she made of Gucci Mane’s “Pussy Print,” which features West, to which she says, “Everyone knows that I sometimes sympathize with the objectification of women in rap way too much.”
An honest admission I didn’t expect but should have given how frank Ms. Skollie is. It is an admission with which I and many sympathize. Despite a lifetime of fidelity to hip hop, this objectification still rankles—but not enough to jettison the genre all together.
On the subject of consent and Pussy Prints in name and meaning (or intended meaning) is, to me, strongly reminiscent and just as powerful as Chris Ofili’s Pimpin’ ain’t easy—an artisanal dick-pick, if I ever saw one.
While at the gallery, Khoisan Courage brought to mind Ofili’s The Healer, but when I dug up his painting I realized the similarities weren’t as strong as I thought they were.
I doubted if to bring up the comparison not knowing if Ms. Skollie will warm to it, or if they’re just wide off the mark. “Ofili is a huge inspiration, though only in contexts and concept,” she says. “And shock value, not particularly visually.”
I wasn’t altogether wrong then. Like Lady Skollie’s work, Ofili’s early paintings amalgamated the irreverent and the sacrosanct. His later paintings steered clear of the nakedly confrontational and embraced mythology, the explicit making way for the implicit.
Ms. Skollie is in her late 20s as was Ofili when he courted controversy with works like Holy Virgin Mary. He also drew inspiration from Zimbabwean cave paintings as Ms. Skollie has done with Khoisan paintings. Such comparisons are not conclusions on Ms. Skollie’s work, rather, they’re mere references.
The brain simply creates contexts when presented with new images and ideas never before encountered. Ms Skollie does not mind the parallels drawn to her work, “Only when I am compared to dead (or living) white artists. I hate it when people say (and they have) ‘Oh she’s almost like a South African Tracey Emin‘ then I have to be rude and exclaim “Bitch WHERE?!”
“It’s almost as if in SA you only count if you have a vaguely similar white counterpart,” she continues. “I lamented this fact to Athi Patra Ruga, who I look up to as an Art Uncle of sorts, and he told me that I have to shut comparisons down. That’s the only way [the] SA Art world shows you respect, by comparing you to a white European version of yourself. ”
On a primitive level, this is the mind creating contexts when faced with that which it had never seen or fail to comprehend.
Reading the above statement reminded me of a personal experience. The first time a girl I fell for was going to spend the night, she brought her own condoms which were for me. I was both impressed and surprised and then a little worried that she would carry her own condoms, but they were for me and I had no reason to believe they weren’t.
I don’t have to think about respecting women because I just do. But even I, in love as I was and I’d say well raised as I am, a conservatism I didn’t know I had sprung up. Not that it stopped the business that followed, but it was enough to be a lasting memory, and a subject that i would bring up in an interview 6/7 years later.
Something similar happened when another lady I was dating asked me not to use a condom as she was allergic to latex. It was my first time hearing of such an allergy and then shamefully thought she wanted me to get her pregnant.
Sure enough I went to get tested after the three week wait between act and test, before any possible symptoms are detected, not wanting to take chances. When I asked the doctor, who happened to be female, if there was such a thing as latex allergy, she confirmed it and almost took offense that I would think such a thing didn’t exist, and that my girlfriend would lie about such a thing for whatever reasons when she was in fact being sensible.
I think I lost any agency I thought I had being the guy with the condom and in whose house it was all to take place. It might not even be “agency,” but the assumption that I had it, and that was shaken by what is a sensible decision on the girl’s part. Today I’ll give my sisters the same advice.
I had a similar reaction when I visited Tyburn. The works in Lust Politics made me re-evaluate the latent assumptions and beliefs I had, and the times I may have bought into my masculinity a little more than I should have.
I’m saying even among seemingly normal and well balanced men, societal assumptions percolate deeply but not always insidiously. Lust Politics, and by extension Ms. Skollie’s podcasts, zine and views each have the power to make one face and reconsider received thinking.
I tell Ms. Skollie of these experiences as responses to Lust Politics and in learning about her work, and ask if she had observations or reactions to them, not wanting any questions I might have to limit the scope of her answers, and she had this to say:
“This is the perfect reaction to those things. I think the work of me wrestling with my daddy issues ties in with this because every day, as liberated and free thinking as I am and sometimes pretend to be, patriarchy also has a psychological effect on my being every day. It’s the way we are programmed to be, sometimes I’m confused and I don’t know if it’s biological or taught.”
“The girl having her own condoms takes the power away from the man and in turn annoys the man,” she continues, “Because what if she’s using those condoms for someone else too? Possessiveness, jealousy, wanting to be the only one; these things are natural but we are also told that in the liberated mind they should not play a role. I think often we are all being mind fucked and we all don’t understand this game.”
Sabo Kpade is an Associate Writer with Spread The Word. His short story ‘Chibok’ was shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize 2015. His first play, ‘Have Mercy on Liverpool Street’ was longlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award. He lives in London. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.