The Men Affirming Dignity exhibition seeks to weave narratives that have remained muted and undocumented into social history. The first in a series, this exhibition places particular focus on ‘Coloured’ men who live on the Cape Flats. These are men who live out their humanity through oppressive belief systems – hence the acronym MAD (Men Affirming Dignity).
Drawing on an understanding of African cultural and historical reality based on African-generated criteria, the MAD exhibition does not romanticise. Rather it amplifies the humanity of ‘Coloured’ African men as they navigate histories of dislocation, oppression and survival. The men who graciously agreed to participate in this exhibition do not see themselves as ‘heroes’, ‘real men’ or ‘good men’. The sources and resources they draw on to affirm dignity in their intimate and public relationships are highlighted. It is their quest, and one that has been proven to heal relationships between men and women.
Ruben Richards, patron of MAD, in his book Bastaards or Humans: The unspoken heritage of Coloured people – Origins/ Identity/ Culture and Challenges (2017), reminds us that ‘“Coloured” and their indigenous Khoisan (Bushman) ancestry (as opposed to their European ancestry) were not always considered or treated as human beings’.
As Uncle Willie, one of the MAD participants, laments: ‘You cannot uproot people and throw them in a concrete jungle and expect them to become sane human beings … people need space.
‘They need to know that they are loved … The fathers today are those young people who were beaten up during apartheid … and violence breeds violence. We shouldn’t turn to guns to kill each other – those were the weapons that the police used during apartheid to kill us.’