Art isn’t just about beauty. Its purpose is not simply to look pretty on a wall. It’s also there to challenge us, inspire us, infuriate us – to get us to feel, and to view ourselves in different ways. If that is the definition of art, then is a white middle class woman from Bryanston wearing an EFF beret a form of art? I’m a capitalist, after all.
In some ways, yes. The crusty old fart who called me a clown – twice – at Leafy Greens in Muldersdrift was clearly responding to me in an emotional way. So was the security guard who called me comrade and shook my hand, something that’s never happened before even though I’ve gone in and out of that gate a hundred times. Then there was the table full of white hipsters at Velo this afternoon who watched in amazement as first one EFF soldier and then another walked in and looked at the Firepool painting.
“We’ll buy some pieces,” said Prince Talifhani, who came in bearing a heavy burden of manifestos and posters, and said he was the youth league leader.
Later, Nchema (whom I know as @ShottaZee) brought me a long-promised beret. I’d been asking for one for months, ever since the red berets first attracted the attention of the media. Why exactly I wanted one so much is difficult for me to express entirely rationally – I’m a partner in a small business which relies on multinational clients after all – but I sensed the power of the symbol, and also the power of the sight of someone so unlikely – me – wearing it.
He was a lovely, gentle, soft-spoken guy -not at all like the firebrands we see on TV. He was very pragmatic in his view of the elections, telling us that as long as we did not vote ANC, that was fine.
Here we are demonstrating the fighter way to wear it – appropriately, the Firepool panels form a background:
And here’s the fashion version:
So, to repeat the question: is wearing an EFF beret a form of art? Yes, in many ways it is. Performance art, you could call it, though this is not just about surface gesture. It’s certainly provocative, and a reminder that this Freedom Day, we’re not all quite as comfortable with the freedom of others as we profess to be. It’s one of the roles of art to remind us of that.
We’re still very narrow-minded in South Africa, still married to the idea of certain people only doing certain things. Hating and fearing the EFF is too easy and too glib a response, and I’d rather engage with them, even if it’s not conventional. If I can get people to reassess the rules we all live by, if we can play with identity and explore different ways of being, that’s a good thing.