Cultural products and discourses about erotic pleasure have recently proliferated, leading to what the author calls “the pleasure turn.” In studies of African culture, “the pleasure turn” can be read as decentering the dominant paradigm that has mostly associated black nakedness with negative emotions: sorrow, pain, and humiliation. Illustrative of the turn is the 2009 exhibition Beauty and Pleasure in South African Contemporary Art, which considered pain and suffering as overrated and sought to provide a more accurate picture of life on the continent as a mix of pleasure and pain. This article closely reads the South African multimedia artist Dineo Bopape’s 2008 Silent Performance, alongside Berni Searle’s 2001 politically charged Snow White, to point out their generative potential for the intersection of the visual media, erotic pleasure, and nudity. Traditional views of pleasure have avoided the nexus of erotic pleasure and the visual because of their historical association with nineteenth-century scientific racism. The author argues Bopape’s and Searle’s images exceed a single and stable interpretation. By inserting their (semi-)naked bodies as central images, they invite yet resist unwanted readings of erotic pleasure in their works. Incorporating her analysis of these works into her conceptualization of images of black female nudity in art, the author proposes that a robust attention be given the visual image in the rising conversation on pleasure in African studies.
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Research Article| May 01 2020