Blaam-II
Art that hurts. It hurts to look at it; the art drips with damage, painful damage. But not all of it. Some of Richardt Strydom’s art aims to please.

The hurt, the damage…the effects of a violence that the artist extracts from the personal, where it is usually secreted, and puts in/to the public eye – literally, as an exhibit. It’s Blaam II’s nail in the eye. The wounds seem self-inflicted but self-infliction would be a misattribution, as the wounds surface becoming. These are the marks of making, of being made. This becoming is through violations inflicted upon the subject.
The “contents” of the wounds signify their structural grounds. This is the damage done by Afrikaner nationalism.

Dwang#6

Dwang#7
In the Dwang series Strydom, in a corrective repeat, also shows us the violations that happen in plain view. This series is based on a childhood memory of “public medical examinations administered by state doctors that all pre-adolescent boys in state schools had to undergo during the 1980s”. These are violations usually confined to private spaces that have been normalised in public spaces: in the institutional settings of schools where children’s bodies are corralled into gender and race and sexuality, and then ritually invaded. Institutions that rest on the compulsory accessibility of the child’s body to the adult, of the boy’s body to the adult male. The Dwang series is Strydom’s most aesthetic work. Issues of agency come to the fore in the artist’s decision to place young men instead of boys on the receiving end. The relational positioning of the two figures conveys the power imbalance – the subjection. This is complicated by the models’ adoption of receptive stances. They aim to please. The onlooker can derive pleasure from the image. The onlooker becomes complicit. The corrective repeat lies in that the work reiterates the gesture of shifting the private violation to the public but with a vital difference: it exposes normalised actions of everyday violation and demands our examination of complicity in them.

Violence/violation is constitutive of the subject under review in Strydom’s work: ‘the Afrikaner man’. It is a truism that identification is in itself an act of violence: making the ‘I’ is always already an exclusion, the ejection of what is ‘not-I’. That said, the historical conditions of the construction of ‘the Afrikaner’ are the violences of colonialism and apartheid. These are structural violences that bled into the South African War (1899-1902), the so-called Border War in Namibia and Angola, which involved the ‘frontline states’ (1960s-1990), and the violent repression inside the country (1976-1994). It is an identity born in blood, its own and other’s.

When called upon to take up arms to defend the apartheid state against the swart gevaar (black peril) and the rooi gevaar (red peril) in the 1960s, the violent features of this variant of colonial white masculinity intensified. Militarisation of the identity saw a hyper-masculinisation. Strydom’s work cleaves open the damages that the project of whiteness has inflicted on this version of masculinity, captured in the title of this retrospective exhibition: Bleek, or pale. The title suggests not only pigmentation but also bleakness (of life) and, in translation, “beyond the pale”. The identity that achieved hegemony during apartheid has been stigmatised. It seeks a new lease on life.

Portret van ‘n jong man # 1 (White Masks Series)
Portret van 'n jong man # 11 (White Masks Series)
The White MasksPortrait of a Young Man series includes images of worn orifices, re-opened scars, deep purple bruises, partially stitched wounds – all superimposed on faces. This identity is not only wounding but violating. It obscures/displaces whatever intact ‘I’ could have existed. The addition of a hand gesture indicating a pistol positioned in the mouth, on the temple or the heart, or under the throat, reinvokes the violence suggested by the injuries, and also the response: self-obliteration through violence. The wounds of this identity make it unliveable. As part of the same series, ‘(the male) sex on the brain’ is pictorially depicted: a penis and scrotum superimposed on a face and forehead. The ‘cocked pistol’ is under the throat. The combination hints at a sexualised violence, which is also suggested in the ‘hand/pistol’ in the mouth in this series. The work hints at the slippage between homoeroticism and Afrikaner masculinity’s homosociality, despite its heteronormative pretensions.

The unpicking of the strands of sexuality and gender is continued with the addition of affect in the Dwang series. The artist’s explanation of the work as based on public medical examinations positions this series as a critique of normalised violations. At the same time the images show a submission that is eroticised. The eroticism seems intermingled with affect, a tenderness even in the intrusion of the disembodied hand in the mouth. Invoked here are the losses in intimacy and humanity due to the brutality of abiding by an exacting heteronorm in the service of whiteness.

_Speak-and-Spell_left

In the A verbis ad verbera – From words to blows collection, the hard-hitting double-panel work Speak and Spell draws together Strydom’s critique of Afrikaner masculinity in two images which lend themselves to a double reading, aptly. The left panel shows the artist with the words ‘Daddy fucked me’ carved with bloody cuts into his forearm. In the right panel, the artist shows his tongue, cut to split it. In one reading, the previous generations of Afrikaner men did indeed ‘fuck’ the current generations, by inducting them into an identity so exclusionary and injurious as to render it unliveable. How does one speak as a white Afrikaans man, given the guilt (Blaam is the title of two of the works), the doubt (Weifeling is another)… Clinging to whiteness demands speaking with a split tongue: speaking in one way among those like you, and in another with other South Africans. The second reading is that of sexual violence inside Afrikaner families, including against boys by fathers, which is yet to be acknowledged and worked through. There again a split tongue is the only way to maintain the veneer. But the violence is carved into the body.

It could seem as though Strydom balances on a thin line, especially with the Dubul iBhunu series, which at first sight simply suggests the well-worn claims of Afrikaner male victimhood. Again the hand-as-gun is employed, sometimes in combination with what seems to be small facial wounds. Viewers are invited to listen to the Afrikaner nationalist Die Lied van Jong Suid-Afrika, which Strydom had commissioned a composer to recast in reverse form, overlaid with vocals by Afrikaans men singing an African nationalist struggle song with the phrase ‘Dubul’ iBhunu’ (Kill the Boer). But the work proposes that nothing less but a scrambling of the Afrikaner nationalist discourse, combined with an opening up to the black other – a making vulnerable to the black other – is demanded of white Afrikaans men.

dubula-#1

Ibhunu-#1

The post-apartheid strategy has been for Afrikaner masculinity to deny its privilege while bemoaning victimhood to reclaim the former position of ‘mighty man’, of ‘priest and king’, as popular lay preacher Angus Buchan would have it. In contrast, Strydom’s oeuvre surfaces the injuriousness of formerly hegemonic Afrikaner hetero-masculinity in its establishment of a hierarchy in which some men are positioned as ‘lesser’. Strydom’s art is not violence, as Magritte’s work Ceci n’est pas une pipe reminds us. It is a surfacing of the actual but hidden victimisation suffered by generations of men under the hands/pistols of the priest and king.

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Dr Christi van der Westhuizen is author of White Power & the Rise and Fall of the National Party and a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Humanities in Africa (Huma), University of Cape Town.

Portret-van-‘n-jong-man_12

Portret van ’n jong man #12
(From the White Masks series)

870 mm x 610mm

Digital print on 100% cotton artist

2014

palpation
I’m fortunate to have a number of works included on Performing Wo/Man, an exhibition curated by Derek Zietsman, focusing on gender identity in post-apartheid South African art.

The exhibition aims to explore how a changing post-apartheid socio-political environment is causing South African men and women to create new conceptions of identity, and to comment on how South Africans are breaking down previously imposed and preconceived identities.

“Identity theorists, such as Stuart Hall and Butler, contend that identities are not something which already exists, but a construct that undergoes constant transformation, a fluid variable which shifts and changes in different contexts and at different times,” says Zietsman.

The exhibition therefore visually investigates, explores and comments on issues such as: inter alia; the historic and contemporary construction of South African identities; masculinity; femininity; patriarchal hegemony; sexual identity; social identity; racial identity; social expectations for post-apartheid gender performativity; political and social change and its effects on gender performativity; rape and violence in South Africa; and abuses of power by role models and politicians.

The artists participating in Performing Wo/Man are Bambo Sibiya, Bevan de Wet, Christiaan Diedericks, Collin Cole, Derek Zietsman, Diane Victor, Gordon Froud, Karin Preller, Grace da Costa, Jaco van Schalkwyk, Paul Molete, Richardt Strydom, Robert Hamblin, Sarah Ballam, Sybrand Wiechers, Tanisha Bhana and Yannis Generalis.

Portret-van-‘n-jong-man_13

The exhibition presented by University of Johannesburg Arts & Culture at the UJ Art Gallery runs from Wednesday, 6 August to Wednesday, 10 September 2014.

(Images: Top – Palpation, 2014. Bottom – Portret van ’n jong man #13, 2014)

TWENTY: Contemporary Art From South Africa
Ecstatic to have works included on the TWENTY: Contemporary Art From South Africa exhibition at Appalachian State University’s Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, Boone, North Carolina USA.

Waiting-for-the-nighta

Exhibition statement: “As South Africa celebrates its 20th year of democracy, having made a peaceful transition from apartheid state to a new and more equitable dispensation, this show seeks to show a slice of South African existence through contemporary art. While it is in celebration of this milestone, the exhibition itself does not necessarily unpack the notion of democracy but rather looks across the scope of what it means to have been a South African over the last 20 years. The show thus explores issues of social conditions, like land issues, HIV/Aids and resistance art and juxtaposes these with more positive aspects like the Mandela years and the influence of traditional craft on contemporary South African art” – Appalachian State University.

Waiting-for-the-night

Makwateng seedbomb 1 May #2
Makwateng seedbomb 1 May #2

Landscape experiments

These are experiments that that go along with practice based research articles as a means to explore visual responses to theoretical arguments.

The gifs are in a response to an article that looks at the use of the picturesque by colonial artists as a means of framing the foreign landscape and how such practices inform the relationship between notions of landscape vs.land

The gifs depict the action of seed-bombing, which is a form of guerrilla gardening, here enacted on the site of what was once Makweteng – an area of pre-apartheid forced removals, that is near where I currently live.

Seeing that my usual artistic practice engages with self-identity, I wanted to explore how I could put myself back into the landscape without enacting the role of the possessing agent.

The floral attacks are a way of re-introducing indigenous flora onto derelict land.I aim to revisit the sites in spring to see if any of the seeds sprouted.
I decided to use gif animations because it is a sequence of frames. The format is willfully square as opposed to ‘landscape’ or ‘portrait’.

Makwateng seedbomb 27 April #1
Makweteng seedbomb 27 April #1

Makweteng seedbomb 27 April_02
Makweteng seedbomb 27 April #2

salon invite

SALON 1 is the pilot exhibition of a pop-up 19th century-style salon curated by Ann-Marie Tully and Andrea Rolfes, bringing together select groupings of emerging and established South African artists.
From 1725 the official art exhibitions organised by the organised by the French academy were held in the room called the Salon Carré in the Louvre, which became known simply as ‘The Salon’.
This exhibition which represents an artist-led and artist-centred premise revives the pre-white-cube experience of viewing art in tight knit groupings that prize the value of every inch of an exhibition venue, and present each work in dialogue and tension with other work (thematically and/or aesthetically)

SALON 1 previews between 2:00 and 16:00 on Friday 11 July 2014;
Join us to celebrate the opening on Saturday 12 July at 12:00.
The SALON is open between 10:00 and 16:00 Sunday 13 July & Monday 14 July.
Closes at 15:00 on Tuesday 15 July.

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Photos: courtesy of Salon

Salon on Facebook

 

Dwang 6

Artwork: Dwang #6 – part of  ‘BLEEK: photographic and audiovisual works 2010 – 2014′ at The Gallery, NWU Potchefstroom (artwork details: 40 cm diameter, digital print on 100% cotton artist paper, edition 10).

BLEEK encompasses a number of photographic series that sets out to interrogate the performance of white masculinity from different points of entry. Masochistic violence and self-interrogation are recurring themes in the body of work. I am is especially interested in the manner different traditions and contexts are embodied in particular power rituals.

 The Dwang portraits in particular are informed by a personal childhood memory. Although ostensibly erotic these images conjure up the unpleasant experience of public medical examinations administered by state doctors that all pre-adolescent boys in state schools had to undergo during the 1980s. By replacing the model with an adult male I want to question issues of agency and complicity.

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