Challenging Toxic Masculinity
South African artist Mzoxolo X Mayongo is challenging pre-existing concepts of masculinity. He is forging a different masculine identity for the South African man through a series of provocative and engaging works.
Mayongo’s photo series Ubukho be Ndoda: Demystifying the Phallus of Man is directed by his own unforgiving insecurities as a Black man living in South Africa today. The series explores the politics of gender and sexual identity as it relates to men, particularly at this time when the ideas of femininity, masculinity, and sexual orientation are being re-examined from varying perspectives.
He commented in a recent interview, “This is in response to my own individual identity, an exploration of the complex identities of manhood that exist in me, as well as the unforgiving insecurities as a man in South Africa.”
In describing his methodology, Mayongo said, “I use my body as a tool to explore and interrogate human conditions, exposing the ills and sickness that exist in society. In so doing, I hope my work will offer healing and reform.”
In light of the now global #MeToo movement, Mayongo hopes his work opens up a discussion confronting old-fashioned preconceptions about gender and fosters openness in order to heal and discover new identities.
He was inspired to create this series after he realised that men are battling current stereotypes. He believes they are expected to fit into a rigid box of gender identity.
Growing up in South Africa had a major, bittersweet impact on the artist. Born into an umXhosa family, Mayongo was raised as a Christian and entrenched in a Westernised culture. He describes his childhood as confusing because, as a young boy, he never associated with the stereotypes of a Kasi (town boy) but he never really fit into the suburban landscape either. He was stuck in between. As such, he struggled with defining and understanding his true identity. According to him, “That tension of duality has always been there; I always had to battle and find balance between the two worlds—soft and hard, masculine and feminine.”
South Africa is a culturally saturated country, filled with many different belief systems and religions. Mayongo believes many of the country’s problems are caused by its cultural, religious, and racial diversity. This is why his photographs are a means of locating the power struggle and power shift in the country’s history and culture.
As a young man and an artist in contemporary South Africa, Mayongo intends to raise awareness of issues surrounding toxic masculinity. And Ubukho be Ndoda is part of this larger goal. His practice extends to social justice programs, mainly TalkingMEN, a platform that facilitates discussions about what it means to be a man in present-day South Africa.
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