Fine artist Neo Mahlangu creates art using digital illustrations and charcoal, and social media as an additional medium. She says she aims to create work that inspires self-reflection and introspection. Her latest body of work, Bogaleng: The unspoken right of passage, speaks to how pain has become part of all women’s lives. Neo says women are subjected to pain at every point in their lives. “Through lived experience, I know that pain is intertwined with being a woman. It has become the unwritten right of passage into womanhood. It is as though society has dictated that, in order to be initiated into womanhood, some level of pain must to be experienced,” Neo explains.
“Sometimes pain is subtle, other times it becomes too extreme to be ignored. From a young age, women are taught to bear being antagonised. A young girl is told that when a boy makes fun of you, he is really showing interest in you. Emotional pain in exchange for attention is groomed. This develops into a married women learning to go kgotlhella (to endure any pain that they experience from the husband). Emotional pain in exchange for commitment is accepted. Beauty is also given in return for pain. Women are conditioned to be meet the standards of the male gaze, which can only be achieved through pain, like when high heels are worn even though it systematically disfigures the female body. It has become a norm for women to experience pain.”