Domestic Bliss | A Series of Portraits by Alice Mann

Octavia

 

Domestic Bliss is a series of portraits by Alice Mann which highlight the unique domestic environment in Cape Town’s wealthy Southern suburbs.

 

As a result of high unemployment levels many women are pressed into accepting minimum wage for their services, which is also the reason so many South African households are able to employ domestic workers on a full time basis.

 

“This subject matter is particularly interesting to me,” Alice explains. “Having grown up in Cape Town I became used to the presence of a domestic worker around my house, and the homes of my friends. My own relationship with the woman who works in my family household was a prominent influence for creating this series, and I took many portraits of her during the early stages of the project.”

 

Alice chose to photograph the women in their uniforms – a constant visual marker of their existence within someone else’s home, and the defined purpose of their presence in the space. Despite the intimate nature of their jobs and the bond they share with the members of the family they work for, the women’s uniforms serve to depersonalise them into a workforce.

 

In Domestic Bliss, Alice investigates the complex space in which domestic workers exist. On the one hand, they are put in charge of someone else’s home to perform tasks traditionally reserved for a wife or a mother. Yet, at the end of the day, these women each return to their own homes and families in the outskirts of Cape Town – far removed from the wealth of their employers.

 

“In each image I aimed to capture an ambiguity in my subjects: the point of intersection between their job, which defines them as low income domestic workers, and their own pride and individuality as females in contemporary South Africa,” says Alice.

 

www.alicemann.co.za

 

Cynthia

Portia

Rachel

Veronica

Agnes

Charlene

Thandi

Sandra

Leah

Domestic Bliss by Alice Mann (8)

Domestic Bliss by Alice Mann (9)

Domestic Bliss

Domestic Bliss

Domestic Bliss by Alice Mann (11)

Domestic Bliss by Alice Mann (3)

Cynthia

Domestic Bliss by Alice Mann (2)

Domestic Bliss by Alice Mann (21)

Domestic Bliss by Alice Mann (7)

 

23 Comments

  1. Really love the concept behind this.

  2. What is the point of this project?
    Is it to uplift these women’s lives?Or to further press them down? Being a domestic worker is not all they are worth,it would have made sense if you took pics of them in AND OUT of uniform..just to show who they really are.

    I happen to recognise one of the ladies (7th picture from the bottom)- she stays in my area. She always is dressed well, stays in a beautiful home,always well put together. I would have NEVER thought that she was a maid! Cleaning someones house…really? If anything this project gave me a different perspective of her, a negative one, like is that all she does??. Was that your intention Alice Mann? Please clarify.

    Thanks

  3. OUR MOTHERS ARE NOT FREE. Please therefore be mindful that the person hired to clean these facilities might just be a cleaner to you, but to others he/she is a wife/husband, mother/father, friend, sister/brother, daughter/son, partner & colleague.

  4. I also love the concept behind this. Interesting…

  5. I concur with the second and third comment. While your approach is obviously well intentioned, it is ignorant of these women as anything either than being uniformed maids. The pictures are clearly taken in the homes of their employers, how are you interrogating our understanding of the relationship between domestic workers and their jobs, their agency as women as black people? For whom is this bliss? It would have been so much more interesting to teach us, to extend the waspy Capecentric gaze on black people further than what we already know. This further entrenches the image of black people into servitude in the eyes of the white gaze. What can a child of the 21st Century learn about the black woman that a child of the 20th and 19th and 18th Century didn’t already know. This series really misses an integral point in the social edification of South Africans when it comes to race relations. Open your eyes already.

  6. This is simply perpetuating an already (unbalanced) view and perception of the black female role. I don’t find anything revolutionary or unique about this so-called body of work.

    What is this meant to achieve?

    I visited Alice’s website and was taken-aback when being faced with yet another re-iteration of an existing (unhealthy) narrative. I looked at the work with the portraits of families from (only white) upper middle class families.

    What is that meant to achieve?

    I am not for one split second saying that these images aren’t a reflection of what is currently the reality in South Africa, however, I am of the opinion that if you are going to photograph black female domestic workers you need to be bringing something interesting and new to the table. It is a subject not to be expropriated for the sake of “being different” or “treading where no others will”.

    Unimpressed and slightly annoyed.

  7. I think these photographs are incredibly powerful exactly because it takes us right into the wealthy households where these women work for peanuts, showing us how divided SA still is. If Alice had photographed these women in their own houses and clothes it wouldn’t really highlight the complex work situation they find themselves in – which is the point of the series. In the end, these photographs beautifully portray women who are usually behind-the-scenes in a way that is dignifying, empowering and thought-provoking.

  8. These women are so much more important than people think. They may be the ladies that clean homes but to the children in those homes these amazing women are so much more. They are often friends, grannies, aunties, confidants, chefs, loved ones and people who leave many great memories in the hearts of the children they often come to love as their own.

  9. I think some of you have completely misunderstood the concept behind this work.

    If you read Alice’s artist statement and took the time to appreciate the beautiful way that she has chosen to portray these women, specifically in their uniforms, then i think the ambiguity that she speaks of in the last paragraph becomes very clear and poignant.

    I think that the social complexities that some of you raise and your own particular prejudice towards domestic workers (@IssuesZabantu), are exactly what Alice is interrogating in her work.

    I love it

  10. Only in Cape Town.This is very problematic.

  11. I am truely confused my this work. What is its purpose? How does it portray the great divide? Am I to assume none of these womens houses look like this? Is there something a domestic worker ought to be?

    I think this work is not of its time and belongs with the relics of apartheid from which it was born. Only in Cape Town would this even be considered art, amongsts a group of self important liberal whites and their agreeable token black friends.

    Thanks for taking pictures of your domestic workers at work, I’ll put them next to the pictures I collect of school children, taken at school.

  12. I read the statement Alice wrote and still I dont understand the purpope behind these potraits? She has just further perpetuated the lie these women live! I absolutely hate these uniforms! They are the cover the white man created to cover their discomfort. Discomfort that they need these woman to sustain their lives, a pretence that they are welcomed in their homes! I am glad Alice you think these uniforms bring dignity to these women! Really? What were they before? Did you even take the time to go to their homes or were you more interested in how you can further exploit their situation? The only thing that i got from these pics was a white girl going to ‘Wandies’ restaurant and thereafter claiming they have had the township experience. Arrrrggggghhhh!

  13. Is it problematic that a white girl took these pictures, or is it the greater culture of domestic workers and the situation that they find themselves in that you find so problematic?

    Because if it is the first then i pity you, and if it is the latter then the artist has clearly done a good job at portraying that and your disdain should not be directed at her. Art is suppose to be problematic, it is suppose to get people talking and debating these kinds of issues. There is not suppose to be one clear purpose behind this body of work, we should all be able to draw our own conclusions and understandings.

    Also, i dont see the artist ever suggesting that these women’s uniforms are a source of pride and dignity. Furthermore I think it is highly problematic that you just assume there is never any pride and dignity associated with domestic service, by doing so you are only undermining these women and their own agency.

    My mother was a domestic worker in cape town for many years and she is always proud of her work and the way she was able to provide for us growing up.

  14. The thing is Alice, the truth hurts. Hence my previous comment was deleted. Touché.

    It’s such a rare thing for most White people , even in 2014, to hear Black people speak up and disagree with them. It’s unheard of.

    Nonetheless, for what it’s worth, I hope you will carefully consider the comments on this “blog” and have them encourage you to do a bit of self reflection and self interrogation that will make you realise there is something funafamentally wrong with a lot of things with the way people live in this country.

  15. there’s a major disconnect between the artist’s statement and the photographs themselves. and at the end of the day i shouldn’t have to read a rationale in order to for my reading and your intention to come together.

    “In each image I aimed to capture an ambiguity in my subjects: the point of intersection between their job, which defines them as low income domestic workers, and their own pride and individuality as females in contemporary South Africa,” lofty ambitions, but the pride and individuality you speak of isnt to be found in any of these portraits.

    personally, id love to see you take a second crack at these, next time with a lot more consideration, and with a more honest and interrogative eye into the work. your insight into the complex nature of how these women live is on point, and id be eager to see it portrayed with a little more maturity and attention to the actual meaning your images convey, as opposed to what you would like them to say.

  16. As a photographer based in a township, I really admire your work. It’s art and people interprete art differently. I am actually inspired by this project.

  17. Alice, I think your work is fantastic and I think it has merit. Don’t take any of this to heart, rather use this criticism to your advantage and come back with more.

  18. “domestic bliss”, firstly this does not make sense especially since she advocates trying to showcase the pride and joy and individuality of these women, which i bet they would not identify as going to the southern suburbs and cleaning (as one of her other project shows).none of the three were showcased, quite infact the opposite was reflected, disinterest, annoyance and abit of sadness.
    its also very dishonest as working and cleaning someones house is not blissful, the only bliss experienced is that by the employer and Fam. Dishonest also because she speaks of getting used to having a domestic worker around, i am pretty certain she has always had a maid in her home her entire life, so what was she getting used to exactly? her blackness or what the dynamics of their relationship entail?

  19. “In Domestic Bliss, Alice investigates the complex space in which domestic workers exist. On the one hand, they are put in charge of someone else’s home to perform tasks traditionally reserved for a wife or a mother. Yet, at the end of the day, these women each return to their own homes and families in the outskirts of Cape Town – far removed from the wealth of their employers.”

    How the hell is this a complex space?

  20. Y’all should take this down, Its a lame concept, Its has no depth, Being a domestic worker is not all they are worth.

  21. This article pretty much somes up my thoughts and more. I looked at these images again and immediately recognised the silence he spoke of in this brilliantly expressed piece —> http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/lwandilefikeni/2014/07/01/the-dangerous-sentimentality-of-alice-manns-domestic-bliss/

  22. This article pretty much sums up my thoughts and more. I looked at these images again and immediately recognised the silence he spoke of in this brilliantly expressed piece —> http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/lwandilefikeni/2014/07/01/the-dangerous-sentimentality-of-alice-manns-domestic-bliss/