Visual Arts Balls to the walls

Balls to the walls

Far off the beaten track, 20 minutes along the pothole infested R67, is Phall♂s Art Gallery. After being jolted by ditches and engaging in extreme mud sliding while trying to navigate the car over a bridge without taking an unplanned trip into the Bloukransrivier, we arrive at Bon Tempo Farm the home of Africa’s only gallery dedicated to Phallic Art.

Phall♂s Gallery curator Volkher von Lengeling greets us as we park and leads us to the exhibition space. Phallic objects poke out at guests from almost every nook and cranny of Von Lengeling’s property. From trees expertly pruned to resemble the penis and mosaic penis sculptures dotted around the garden, to penis fountains which spurt water into waiting ponds. The male member even stands to attention on the roof.

Inside, phallus themed paintings, sculptures, photographs, ceramics, and even soaps dominate the art space. Under a wire sculpture manipulated to spell “Phallery” (what von Lengeling enthusiastically calls the exhibition), he explains his initial foray into this art form.

“I was inspired by a book on ancient Scandinavian phallic art which featured the Tängelgårda,” he says, describing the carving of Vikings fighting on a penis. “That was five years ago, then four years ago we started the gallery,” he says.

The gallery is a mix of sexuality and beautiful artwork which leaves us feeling strangely tranquil.

Phall♂s has the aim of celebrating male sexuality while simultaneously promoting women’s empowerment. “I think the idea is pleasure and enjoyment,” says Von Lengeling. “It’s not about the violence and abuse [of women]. In no way do I find it derogatory towards women.” The exhibition, which is free to view, features several female artists and ceramics inspired by the Venus of Willendorf, as well as artwork by local and international artists. His partner, Claudia, is one of the artists who shaped the 12 different phallic bongs on display.

Von Lengeling shows us around, pointing out some of his favourite pieces. “The phallic symbol is so universal that you can draw inspiration from anything really. Anything that’s longer than it is wide is basically phallic,” he explains. His larger-than-life fibreglass sculpture, titled Peacock, which depicts a plumed penis, features prominently in the Phall♂s bar area, which is open to guests who might need to quench their thirst after perusing the gallery.

“The phallus has been hidden away. Its neo-African males who have clung to conservative Victorian and colonial ideas on sexuality and presenting sexuality,” says Von Lengeling. “It’s un-African because the phallus is African. The San and Khoi [images of phalli] are proof of that.”

Von Lengeling envisions Phall♂s growing in the future. “Bigger is better! Ultimately, it would be great to have something that is a year-round attraction for Grahamstown.”

If phalli aren’t your thing, Bon Tempo Farm also features scrap metal sculptures of Nazghuls from the Lord of the Rings, plus a tame zebra who goes by the name of Johnny, who enthusiastically trots over to be petted when Von Lengeling calls his name.

Sarah Beningfield and Heather Cameron
Cue student reporters

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