by Fatsani Kaey
The human body is central to how we understand facets of identity, and specifically gender in this case. Social and cultural conditioning is the driving force behind the so-called ‘normality’ we are led to believe in. Within the realm of social construction is the pressure of having to conform to these roles, which has a negative effect on the way it makes one feel inside. We are conditioned to profile people, sometimes making false or biased assumptions. Stereotypes assigned to gender tend to impose an image that is fixed, and to conform with social conventions (or rebel against them) people often alter their bodies, hair, and clothing.
The body prints explore these competing concepts of identity. Ngwazi is the name given to Malawi’s former president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the first president to lead the country into independence. Banda was regarded as a hero and a leader that young men should aspire to. The word has become embedded in Malawian culture, concealed in misogyny, sexism, and exploitation. Many sacred cultural ceremonies (like gule wamkulu) have been taken out of context and used for publicity like a marketing tool. Historically, the masked dancers are regarded as a medium between the spirit world and the living. Throughout our history, these stories have shifted to suit the current environment – from spirits to teachers, and in turn to entertainment. Typically portrayed in the male form, taking up the space as a Ngwazi. My position is to challenge this notion with a female embodiment of how these social and cultural contracts resonate with me.