Rory Emmett created his ‘Colourman’ avatar as a way to engage with the tensions and assumed stereotypes of what it means to be a ‘coloured’ individual in post-apartheid South Africa. As both a performance artist and portraitist, Emmett engages dynamically with his subject matter across a variety of different mediums in order to better investigate the subject.
‘I am concerned with the language and alchemy of painting. Through my work, I attempt to interrogate colour, and it’s various ideological connotations, as a medium in painting as well as a racial construct. I have constructed a character called The Cape Colourman – or Colourman for short. In the history of ‘traditionl’ painting, a colourman is defined as a person who deals in paints. These traditional artisans served as the makers and distributers of pigments and paint to the masters of old. This figure takes on the idiom of ‘coloured’ identity in attempts to become an heroic avatar. Colourman becomes a play on the term ‘coloured man’-thus questioning certain prescribed assumptions and notions of identity as a static disposition- The Cape Colourman’s identity is fluid, not fixed. Colourman’s racial ambiguity denotes to the term nationally used in South Africa to refer to native South Africans of diverse racial origins. Colourman occupies perpetual greyness, The grey area of liminality and limitless possibilities. The figure is used in performative ways to simultaneously create, dismantle and deconstruct spaces that separate people in order to interrogate idealistic notions of ‘rainbowism’. The constructed figure’s ‘skin’ is constantly shifting – never the same at any given time to highlight the complexities of the surface and re-imagine his appearance in constant flux. This is my “dealing in paints”, an attempt at transcendence from that which aspires to define me.” – Rory Emmett, 2015