Migrant attraction by Khaya Witbooi. Oil and spray paint on canvas, 150cm X 120cm, 2013
Witbooi wrote the following about this painting
“In the culture of Africans in general, the physique of a female adult has always contributed to the foreknowledge about her ability to be a good wife. For instance; black knees and strong hands say a lot about diligence, meaning that it would be suspicious if the woman is reedy since the household duties and bearing children demanded strength. I remember my paternal grandmother who gave birth to eight children before her forties, when she carried bales of samp, flower and oil on her head because they bought staple foods in large quantities. Every pot in our kitchen was so large and she carried these by herself. So, looking back at how people perceived a person capable of being a wife, the good looks played a minor part in what constitutes a wife to be.
However, in modern culture, things are upside down, so much that I have learnt from experience that making a comment about a woman’s weight is offensive and insensitive (even if she asks you about it).
Our general sense of beauty is based on what the media portrays as beautiful. It seems obsessed with the idea of being sexy.
Also, we even speak more English amongst ourselves, as if it is a piece that completes the picture we want to present about ourselves and that we are competent. The only time we speak our African languages is when we are either speaking to family in our hometown to display humility or when we want to emphasize a point.
Well it so then happens that big breasts and slim waistlines get the appreciation of masterpieces and why should a woman be strong when she can prepare food in the microwave oven? Old values or perceptions Older perceptions and values have changed to the point where the meaning of femininity translates into the ability to transform one’s body into a commodity like a Coca-Cola bottle – always appealing. Why, after all, should she carry a physical load on her head when she can carry a good brain useful for making prominent decisions in the family cabinet? Not only are appearances deceitful, any person is likely to be attractive in one way or another.
In conclusion, in the case of a traditional African funeral, family returns home and all the aunts and other related women are there. In that setup tradition comes into play and most of what we do in cities to make our lives easier is not practical. In that atmosphere then the woman are demanded to present themselves as traditional wives because all the elders of the family are present and it is possible that if one acts and looks differently they are subjected to scrutiny from the other women in the family, even to a point that she would be given a silly name like (umfazi wephepha).
So, as much as we a compelled to organize ourselves differently for the urban environment by being strong mentally, we should appreciate too what attraction means in traditional African terms, that it is attractive for a woman to be carrying something on their heads.” – Khaya Witbooi, Cape Town, 2013