Boys don’t cry – and other myths worth busting

 
 
 

What does it mean to be a man? The answer to that question can have a profound effect on society. South Africa has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, a tragedy that has its roots in damaging ideas about masculinity. Men are taught to emphasise their strength and never show weakness. Mzoxolo Mayongo is an artist seeking to address and challenge these misconceptions. His photography, which explores the roles and stereotypes associated with gender, is contributing to a new narrative around identity.

“Growing up as a black man, there are many things you are told,” Mayongo says. “This led me to try to understand what it means to be a man.” His experiences are intertwined with his work as a third-year Fine Art and Anthropology student at the University of Witwatersrand. “My latest project seeks to unpack the privilege men need to acknowledge in order to overcome oppression,” Mayongo says. Ubukho be Ndoda: Demystifying the Phallus of Man is a series of styled portraits that question what masculinity looks like. In one of the photographs, Mayongo wears a soccer kit, mud-encrusted togs included, which is juxtaposed with the flower crown adorning his head. “To liberate my masculinity, I must understand my femininity,” he says.

Mayongo had his first solo exhibition at the Julie Miller Investment Art Institute this year. In addition to his portraits, Mayongo will be bringing a multimedia installation of sculpture and performance art to the National Arts Festival 2018. For some, Mayongo’s work is controversial, but it exists for more than the sake of art alone. Ubukho be Ndoda is just the beginning of the dialogue. Mayongo founded TalkingMen, a series of live panel talks and podcasts. It’s a space for men to talk, to learn, to take accountability, and take action. “Society doesn’t allow us to be vulnerable without seeming weak,” Mayongo says. Through his art and public dialogue, he’s changing that, and challenging traditional notions of masculinity so that we all benefit.