Disrupting My Idea Of Whiteness

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It was at an excursion in the early 2000’s for our Grade 9 class at East London Secondary School. I remember our English teacher, Mrs. Pillay having great hopes for that trip.

Her intentions for having us visit the Ann Bryant Art Gallery in Southern Wood fueled by the expectation that we would walk out of there feeling enlightened by the new experience.

The next day in class, not a single one of my peers talked about it. It was a new experience but also very foreign, one we really struggled to interpret and appreciate. We were certainly bored and detached from the lesson of the art education that had been prescribed to us. The whole trip proving to be a waste of everybody’s time.

Maybe a few more visits and some more variety of the art pieces would have done the trick of converting us but there was never another trip after that one. 

It would be another fifteen years before I’d stand within the walls of an Art Gallery again.

The Standard Bank Art Gallery is not a space I suspect intimidation to be a deliberate trait. But again when you grow up associating certain things to whiteness, it’s easy to mistakenly feel out of place even in the very places that you belong in, that also happen to bring you the most peace.

My soul kinda ached to make up for lost time, time that had fallen through the cracks of an unfair allocation of interests I believed excluded me.

As I walked about, intently transfixed by what looked like random cuttings of colored paper on a white wall, I expected boredom and indifference to kick in but those feelings never came.

I also waited for someone to call me out, asking why a black person like me would sit for far too long on the leather bucket chair absorbing and taking in Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse’s work.

I expected the full room of white people to speak out against my sudden admiration of their art, denying me the desire of opening myself up to something I’ve always classified as exclusively belonging to them.

The Exhibition of the French artist, draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, who was also known primarily as a painter, served as an unexpected initiation into a world I loved exploring and really enjoy being a part of.

I could feel his use of color and his fluid and original draughtsmanship unleashing my own creative juices, I suspected being in the company of his artistry awakened my own ingenuity. 

The free admission aspect of exhibition ensured that I was back a second and a third time to marvel in his virtuosity. I still sat in the same bucket chair quietly taking in the artist’s journey of becoming.

I was still the only black person amongst emotionless grins, giving myself boundless access I never knew I deserved.  

Photo By: Lonwabo Zimela

How do you disrupt your own idea of whiteness? As a black person, have there been spaces that you believed weren’t for you? Things like traveling are still thought of as exclusively only for white people, how do you challenge this troubling belief about ourselves as black people?

One thought on “Disrupting My Idea Of Whiteness

  1. Speaking of travelling, I would love to in the near future, let’s hope I get financially independent soon. I had recently joined a WhatsApp group, I hope this is relevant, of black people who encouraged black consciousness. I loved you the idea behind, but I couldn’t stand how they viewed white people as the enemy. I am very against our apartheid history and I believe we are stilll under some oppression, hence the state in the country hasn’t changed much; the inequalities. But I can’t blame every white person and say they are bad people. Although I still think their majority owes us! Eventually I exited the group.


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