Cultural renegade: Tony Gum is rupturing stereotypes, one frame at a time
A freewheeling spirit on a mission to recalibrate the representation of black women in Western popular culture, Tony Gum is a South African photographer with the world at her feet, says Ros Brennan
Using art as a vehicle for social uprising is nothing new. From Diego Rivera's large public frescos depicting social inequality in Mexico, to the Dadaists whose experimental performance art spoke to the absurdity of war, to the mask wielding Guerrilla Girls who to this day combat the lack of inclusion for women and people of colour in the art world - art and activism have been intertwined for centuries.
Emerging on the international art stage little more than a year ago, Tony Gum is part of a new guard of activist artists bringing a millennial flair to their cause. Among her creds, the South African artist was named Capetown's 'it' girl by Vogue, pegged as an ambassador for the Johannesburg Art Fair and shortlisted for the jury prize awarded at Pulse in New York.
At first glance, Gum's brazen, colourful repertoire resembles a high-end fashion shoot rather than an impassioned lens on social inequality. But therein lies the power of her work. The glossy aesthetic is a well-constructed ploy, a retinal ping to pique your curiosity and draw you into the power of her message.
Capturing the youthful spirit of revolt sweeping across South Africa and the world at large, Gum's photography deconstructs prejudice, subverts the narrative around racial and sexual equality and brokers a more enabling vision of Africanity. What sets her apart is her ability to make light of dark situations. Rather than hurling vitriol at the Western patriarchy, she reframes oppression and inequality through a prism of compassion and playfulness - rupturing the 'normalised' popular culture images we are fed by the Hollywood machine and giving us a much needed vile of truth serum.
Click through the gallery to discover the photography which has catapulted Tony Gum on to the international stage.
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