Saturday, April 23, 2011

Playing dress-up: Tracey Rose's Waiting for God at JAG

A collection of wigs, shoes, and garish necklaces beckoned from one side of the room. Strewn across a group of tables, it looked as if visitors were invited to play dress-up. Adjacent to this was a group of low tables where books were on display, so upon first glance it appeared as if a children’s education initiative to shed some light on Tracey Rose’s mid-career retrospective had been established in the gallery. It seemed incongruent; Rose’s art is a bit risqué for children, though I noticed a number of them transfixed by a video work attached to the Lucie’s Fur series (2003/4). They were giggling as Rose dismounted from a small donkey and plodded around a manicured garden like a mechanical soldier. With her face covered in black paint, a large papier-mâché penis hat on her head and a target sign attached to her back and breasts, she appeared like a caricature of an African female, a cartoon character.

This is typical of Rose’s modus operandi: she cannibalises popular cultural products, refashioning them into surrealistic mise-en-scènes that appear irrational and disjointed. The kind of dress-up game that Rose plays is less about preparing for roles in the adult world, as per the children’s version, and more about unlearning those roles, illuminating their constructed nature but also reconstructing them and recasting them in new narratives of her making. Hence on closer inspection the educational display is intended for adults
This approach might sound like a common strategy, given the likes of Athi-Patra Ruga, Lawrence Lemaoana, Mary Sibande, Nandipha Mntambo and more recently Gabrielle Goliath, who have all made a living in the art world by playing dress-up for the camera.