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Front Row with Malay

Muneeb 'Malay' Omar is a 25-year old multidisciplinary artist from Cape Town, South Africa. His artistic perspective has been profoundly moulded by Apartheid spatial planning and the double consciousness he would find himself developing in its aftermath.

Born on the border of the infamous Mannenberg–but fortunate enough to attend school in the “garden city” of Pinelands–Muneeb’s daily commute quickly exposed him to the stark and ongoing divides within the city of Cape Town.

Muneeb reflects: "I was developing an internal hatred towards my own people of colour”, convinced that the people themselves were at fault for the multifaceted troubles manifested in the life of his neighbourhood; troubles that were alien to the other side of his experience.

Soon after finishing high school, Muneeb began to grow more aware of the historical injustices that had formed these divided communities & which had informed his double consciousness.

Shifting from blame and self-hatred, the artist decided to take a more empathetic interest in his community. Beyond the anger and intergenerational traumas, he discovered a deep humanity within the homes of his people–a culture of care, love and communion among neighbours, not present in the more sanitised suburbs. “At this time I fell fully in love with the coloured people and my culture. From the stigmas of attitudes to the comedy of not having front teeth, it was all amusing to me.” The artist began to develop a pride in his community and the ways they were able to express themselves even under the extremely unfavourable conditions.

All of this would come to influence his artistic work.

The Malay characters are portrayed as a visualisation & product of how Coloured and Black people have been treated over the years: forced to the margins. The characters are all missing front teeth–commenting on the long history of “dental mutilation” in the Cape. Some say that slaves had their teeth forcefully removed to prevent them from speaking their mother tongue, while others suggest it was a way for slaves to “take back control of their own bodies”.

Regardless of what the books say, the passion gap is an ever-present feature in the Cape Flats and is an undeniable part of the heritage of Coloured people.

The Malay characters are tightly squeezed together–reflecting the many constraints of their material circumstances. Although they barely have space for themselves, they make sure everyone fits anyway. As a way of emphasising the humanity of his characters, Muneeb ensures that each character, tightly pressed, has a unique expression–forcing the viewer to consider the complexities of these individuals, leaving no room for perpetuating generalising stereotypes and prejudices.


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