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Themes of Art by Tracey Rose

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Arts
Wordcount: 1073 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Tracey Rose is a South African contemporary artist that gained recognition during the nineties, after graduating with her B.A in Fine Arts. [1] Her work is usually associated with conveying messages of feminism and fighting oppression. [2] She uses art to take back her body and femininity. Being that she is also bi-racial, a lot of her work is fixated on natural hair, as racism and prejudices are still relevant in today’s societies.

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One of her earliest recognized works is called “Untitled”, in which she appears to be recorded in a bathroom shaving off her entire body hair. [2] Rose describes the installation as “both de-masculating and de-feminizing my body, shaving off the masculine and feminine hair. This kind of de-sexualization carries with it a certain kind of violence. The piece is about making myself unattractive and unappealing.” [1] This is especially important because violence against women is not a localized issue, especially cases such as rape and control over women’s bodies. This piece was meant as a statement about having control over her own body and choosing what to do with it. I think the mention of making herself unappealing, was a reference to the pubic area, and how a woman is expected to have certain amount of growth to symbolize sexual maturity.

Her piece “The Kiss” [2], is also an important artwork because it directly charged at the remaining sentiments from apartheid. The piece is a simple photograph of a nude couple; a black man and a white woman. Since, Rose herself is mixed-race, she would have experienced and witnessed how society still rejects the idea of dating outside one’s community. Post-Apartheid, it is to be expected there was strong emotions from both sides of the country. One side could see it as diluting their heritage and mixing with more primitive people, and the other could see it as siding with the enemy and oppressors. Even though interracial dating has become more and more common as years pass, it still garners weird looks from people, and this is in the United States that often models itself as progressive and open-minded.

The pieces Span I and Span II [3] are great representations of the artist’ attitude toward feminism and race. In Span I, Rose is sitting with her head shaved, nude, on a television turned sideways displaying a reclining nude (nude pose), while knitting her own hair that’s on the ground. [2] This piece again represents feminism, as she is reclaiming her own body, and doing whatever she chooses with it. Whether it makes other people uncomfortable, is not her problem, as it is her body and she can do as she pleases with it. I think this bares resemblance to the piece “Untitled”, in that she is choosing and or attempting to make herself “unattractive”. Span II is a man wearing prison overalls, sitting at a wall, that appears to be writing on a wall. Rose stated that the writings are some of her diary entries from when she was a child. They mainly focused on race, identity, and how something as simple as hair, defined the way she was seen and treated. [1] Experiences we have as children mold how we not only see ourselves, but how the world views us. Since Rose was born and raised during Apartheid, we can assume she encountered very many pleasant experiences regarding her race/ethnicity. It was enough to inspire even more overt political artworks as her career progressed.

  One of her much more recent works titled “The Black Paintings: Dead White Men”, [4] Displays just how much more political her work became. In this projection, there appears to be a naked woman, more than likely Tracey herself, posing in front of a wall of signs with names from famous dead activists and revolutionaries. It is very interesting she not only incorporated African revolutionaries, but from across the world. There are multiple race and ethnicities also represented across the signs. Though her work mainly focuses on forwarding feminism, it is interesting that this seems as an homage to men whom fought for their peoples right to a better life. Perhaps her posing symbolizes women standing behind or in front of revolutionary men. Although in one frame, it seems as if the woman is pregnant. This I can interpret as a motherly figure, weeping for her sons, and the nudeness can represent the birthing process. The nude aspect is another example of her making a statement about the female body, and her own power over her own body.

The phrase “dead white men”, tends to be used when speaking about history, and how it usually only mentions men, usually white men. History has been white-washed in countries that were at some point colonized, and South Africa is no exception. All the men displayed on the signs were assassinated due to their political involvement. The nude aspect also represents vulnerability. We can deduce the vulnerability aspect combines with the pose and shows weeping, distraught, sadness, at the loss of life.

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Tracey Rose and her art are not only important to African societies, but to the entire world. The issues of colorism, racism, prejudices are not exclusive to the African continent. Similarly, women’s rights and the patriarchy are also global issues. Adopting feminism not only strives to better the quality of life for women, but also helps men against toxic masculinity. With Rose being able to continually bring attention to the struggle against oppressors in many forms, and always promoting feminism. She is fundamental in helping to change perceptions against people of color, and women.

Works Cited

  • [1] Williamson, Sue. “Archive: Issue No. 43, March 2001.” ArtThrob, artthrob.co.za/01mar/artbio.html.
  • [2] Guy, Marjorie Ann, and Dana. “Marjorie Ann Guy.” SiOWfa15 Science in Our World Certainty and Controversy, 12 Sept. 2014, sites.psu.edu/contemporarywomenartists/2014/09/12/tracey-rose/.
  • [3] “Tracey Rose.” GOODMAN GALLERY : Artists | Show, www.goodman-gallery.com/artists/traceyrose.
  • [4] Art Basel. “Tracey Rose.” Art Basel, Art Basel, www.artbasel.com/catalog/artist/7631/Tracey-Rose.


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