By Shandukani Mulaudzi

There is great power in self-reflection. It is defined as the ability to look into yourself, to introspect and to learn more about what informs who you are. It is simpler to see the scars and afflictions of other people than it is to see our own because self-reflection requires us to look in the mirror and really hone in on both the beautiful and ugly parts of who we are.Richardt Strydom kingpinWe live in masks. There are the masks we make for ourselves and wear to avoid being exposed to society’s criticism and then there are the masks our upbringings slowly mould for us. These masks are difficult to shed because they become such a big part of our identity. They become a part of us, a perfect fit and the skin we are comfortable in.

The power of Richardt Strydom’s “White Masks” is the very personal journey of removing the masks white masculinity wears and often hides behind. His, is an honest and vulnerable look at the white Afrikaner male mask he grew up with. It is an exploration of whiteness in post-apartheid South Africa and looks specifically at violent hypermasculinity and sexuality.

There is something very striking about Strydom’s exhibition. The images are a shock to the system.  At first glance, they invoke feelings of sadness, fear and disgust. What is most important, however, is how the portraits draw you in and implore you to inspect them further.Observer Richardt StrydomWhat you see then, is the deep scarring of gendered and racial ideologies on the individual psyche.

There is a deliberateness in the selection of how the masks manifest. Scars, bruises, open flesh wounds, patched up sores, exposed tissue, chained genitalia and abnormal growths. Our masks are so deeply entrenched part in who we are that getting rid of them is not an easy process – Strydom rips off the plaster to expose the horror of festering sores.

Not only does Strydom explore the pain of removing the masks, he examines the violent masculinity that comes with keeping them on. He does this by depicting some of the young men in the portraits with hand gestures shaped like guns that point into their mouths and under their throats.

A conversation on violence and hyper masculinity can never shy away from examining the relationship between the idea of “being a man” and how this relates to “sexuality”. This is something often taught in the home. The inclusion of the “chastity begins at home” piece is stark in this body of work. The in-your-face depiction of crushed male testicles is horrific. The sexuality of young men is often so restricted and results in many of them having no breathing room to find themselves and denying who they are for a very long time.

Chastity begins at home Richardt Strydom

Strydom leaves no stone unturned in this exhibition and his work calls for the viewer of the art to not only engage with his reflection of self, but with their own too.

White Masks is a solo exhibition by Richardt Strydom on show at Kalashnikovv Gallery from 7 – 23 June 2018. 

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Shandukani Mulaudzi holds a Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is a graduate from The University of the Witwatersrand and #UCKAR. After an eventful career in journalism, working for titles like HuffPost South Africa, City Press, Finweek and YOU magazine, she ventured into the wonderful world of brand communications.

Richardt Strydom Portret-van-'n-jong-man-#8

Richardt Strydom Portret-van-‘n-jong-man_13


Since leaving my academic position just over three years ago, I’ve not been engaging in writing about my practice. Practice in itself had to take a bit of a backseat, as I adjusted to new contexts and routines. I missed being creative both in making and writing, so having taken a self-impose creative sabbatical, I decided to set up an artist page on Facebook. I have been, and still am quite sceptical as to the platform and the effectiveness of such pages and their function for visual artists, but I found that it provided a platform for writing about my practice again – and it’s been nice.

Here is post I did recently, which I enjoyed both reflecting on and writing:

It might be because brand image wasn’t yet such a big industry in the late 90s – but more likely, with apartheid censorship so fresh in everyone’s minds, society was wilfully not as conservative as a decade later when ‘Familieportret 2’ caused a ruckus for its allegorical references to canonical textbook depictions of Western idealised beauty.

‘Untitled: enemata (from the domestic comforts series)’ received a Sasol New Signatures Merit award in 1997, despite clearly showing a rather compromising shot of an anus and erect male member on one half of the modified found sculpture. As alluded to by the title, the work refers to the not so charming boereraad that prescribes a lukewarm soapy enema to alleviate stubborn constipation. Juxtaposed with an Afrikaner Nationalist propaganda painting by W. H. Coetzer on the partner piece, the work proposes, in a tongue in cheek manner, a DIY cure for a ‘verkakte’ ideological mindset.

Shown here are contextual shots that place the sculpture in a white working class kitchen, to draw attention to more serious intertextual relationships and intersections of race, labour, privilege and agency.

At the time I held a part time job lecturing almost anything in the curriculum nobody else wanted to do, because I wanted to be a ‘working’ artist. I ended up spending more time working to make a living with very little time or energy left for making art. In the end even this particular artwork fell victim to those circumstances and was eventually used for its utilitarian content – for washing dishes. At the time, I convinced myself that in Duchampian terms the work was then finally complete.


Link to FB page here

BISM, Artists’ Books from the Jack Ginsberg Collection

BISM, a limited edition book, hand made and curated by Belinda Blignaut as part of the exhibition A SHOT TO THE ARSE (2012) was recently included on Booknesses: Artists’ Books from the Jack Ginsberg Collection, held at University of Johannesburg Art Gallery and ran from 25 March till 5 May 2017.

BISM, served as part document, part manifesto to A SHOT TO THE ARSE, and includes artifacts, remnants and a number of signed original works by some of the participating artists.

BISM, Artists’ Books from the Jack Ginsberg Collection

My contribution to BISM were 10 different pencil and gouache altered photographic print on cotton paper for each of the 10 limited edition copies, and sheet music from my work Die lied van jong Suid Afrika

BISM, Artists’ Books from the Jack Ginsberg Collection curated by Belinda Blignaut incl. work by Richardt Strydom

A SHOT TO THE ARSE, also curated by Blignaut, included works by Stuart Bird, Belinda Blignaut, Jan-Henri Booyens, Breinskade, Kris Canavan, Steven Cohen, Jesse Darling, Simmi Dullay, Ediblspaceships, Kendell Geers, Gabrielle Goliath, Dean Hutton, Jimmy Kipple Sound, Christian Nerf, Panga Management, Daniel Rourke, Athi-Patra Ruga, Wilhelm Saayman, Richardt Strydom, Linda Stupart, David Tallis, James Webb, Vanskrum, Konrad Welz, and Roger Young.

See also: artist book by Richardt Strydom and Jaco Burger, Ad Hominem.

BLEEK Invite 0032

Please join me for a walkabout of Bleek, Saturday 16 July at 15:00, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Cnr Klein and King George Streets, Joubert Park. 

Turbine Art Fair will also be in full swing just a few blocks away, so make an art day of it in the city.

Read catalogue essay by Dr. Christi van der Westhuizen here.

BLEEK Invite 004-1

‘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. Strydom is especially interested in the manner different traditions and contexts are embodied in particular power rituals.

The historically hegemonic position of whiteness makes it difficult to comprehend the notion of a marginal whiteness. The difficulty to articulate a non-hegemonic whiteness often leads to uncertainty and suspicion. A public questioning of whiteness may pose a dilemma since whiteness, even in a postcolonial context, retains its hegemonic status and prestige that might serve to perpetuate what Mohanty calls ‘the white man as spectacle’.

This notion of whiteness as spectacle has led to the artist’s personal interest to examine and make visible the strategies used in the performance of postcolonial whiteness in the South African context.

(Press release)

Installation views:


I’ve contributed two works for Performing Wo/Man, an exhibition curated by Derek Zietsman focusing on gender identity in post-apartheid South African art, has opened at North-West University Gallery in Potchefstroom.

The exhibition has a broad curatorial scope and 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.

Great to share a space with awesome artists like Diane Victor, Gordon Froud, William Kentridge, Anton Kannemeyer, Karin Preller, Bambo Sibiya, Bevan de Wet, Collin Cole, Grace da Costa, Jaco van Schalkwyk, Paul Molete, Robert Hamblin, Pauline Gutter, Zanele Muholi, Kim Berman, Sarah Ballam, Sybrand Wiechers and Tanisha Bhana.

Drome is ook wonde

KD: Why are you so interested in the identity of male Afrikaners? What is so special about it?

RS: Afrikaners’ claim to racial and cultural superiority has been the most obvious, but enduring cultural fallacy with which I grew up. In the early 20th Century there was a systematic white-wash of Afrikaners’ settler history. The recorded and inevitable miscegenation among early settlers (Volksvaders) was the biggest taboo and was suppressed in official historical accounts and more often omitted from family trees. Afrikaners are colonial settlers but somehow insist on laying claim to duel ‘citizenship’ – on the one hand claiming entitlement to an African birthright and ownership, but on the other unwilling to give up their sense of supposed European superiority.

For me it’s an identity that makes for an interesting case-study and I can use myself as subject or starting point of investigation. Afrikaner masculinity is hegemonic in its whiteness, but at the same time it is a post-mastery whiteness, and also an African whiteness.

Whiteness takes its own agency for grated because its pervasiveness makes it invisible to itself. In this context all forms of identity remain almost tangibly political, and all the other aspects that I’m interested such as agency, body politics and the abject also comes into play.

KD: How would you describe the identity of male Afrikaners? How has it been changing over the years?

RS: Its in-group members, who were drunk on staunch Calvinism and a false sense of persecution and self-importance, had always strictly policed the Afrikaner male identity. The current conservative backlash that is besetting erstwhile traditional Afrikaner public institution, like NWU’s Potchefstoom campus, is in my opinion an indication that an entrenched rearguard of middle-aged Afrikaner men suddenly realized that their phallocentric privilege had become deflated. The barracking of old bastions with mothballed ideologies is exposing a deep-rooted fear of restitution. The cultural impotence suffered by this rearguard is currently manifesting in desperate attempts of self-interest that entail the debilitating bureaucratizing of said institutions and long overdue transformation processes, the policing and censure of independent thought and the malicious intimidation and victimization of dissenters.

I find it disparaging that this should still be the case 20 years after liberation – but not at all surprising. It echoes the attitudes and actions of the Afrikaner henchmen towards dissenters in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it became clear that a change in the status quo was inevitable. By actively subverting restitution and transformation processes, many of yesterday’s henchmen managed to hang on and are today still in the same positions of power, and are the motivating force behind the rearguard’s desperate backlash.

Fortunately, since 1994 the triumph of democratic society and a constitution that prohibits discrimination on grounds including race, gender, sex, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth has liberated people to question and challenge dogmatic cultural institutions and assumptions. There are many younger Afrikaner men and women who are establishing and articulating their own gender and national identities outside of the thought prison of the Afrikaner rearguard.

Dubul KD: How do you feel as a part of this community?

RS: I would like to see myself as part of a larger South African and African community, and to do that I need to disavow most of the staunch dogmas that inform Afrikaner identity.

Being part of the white Afrikaner community, and its particular history, however has made me become more aware of the ways in which prejudice and bias influence the ways we see others and how privilege can make one blind to the injustices meted out to others.

I find the fact that the majority of white South Africans can claim never to have benefited from 300 years of colonial oppression as well as apartheid completely incredulous. But, the point is – all whites here have benefitted from our colonial history, which continued throughout apartheid and up to the present. And whites are still privileged by that history. As long as we have not yet arrived at the postcolonial proper, that history will continue to dominate the present.

KD: What aspects of the male Afrikaners‘ identity do you want to show in your photographs and why?

RS: I always work at home in my own living room, so my private domestic environment becomes the stage where these isolated performances are captured as still images – relics if you like.

I’m interested in the tension between private performance and public image. I want to show an identity in slippage.

KD: Why did you choose this particular subject? Do you rather use your personal experience and memories or rather the collective experience of Afrikaners in your art?

RS: It was an evolution of sorts. When I started art school in 1990 Resistance Art was at its zenith. South African Resistance Art was a socio-political and cultural response to state oppression. During the 1980s much of it was suppressed and many of the artists faced constant harassment or censure. By the start of the 1990s the liberation movements in Eastern Europe were felt here as well. The then president PW Botha of apartheid `South Africa was ousted in a soft coup – and the journey to democracy began. With this everything that was suppressed came into the open. Resistance Art expressed that liberation and had a profound influence on me.

Since then I’ve had an interest in art that was cognisant of its socio-political and cultural context. I draw inspiration from my surroundings and social interactions, so my current location at NWU in Potchefstroom, the institutional culture and weltanschauung here has been the impetus behind much of the body of work between 2009 and 2013. It was a way for me to make sense of my surroundings and my personal relation and position towards it. The last series to speak directly to this is called The Sleep of Reason Begets Monsters. This series consists of life-sized portraits depicting sleeping male figures. The title (in altered form) refers to the original Francisco Goya etching depicting a sleeping man – oblivious, but about to be overcome by his nightmares. Goya’s work is part of his Los caprichos-series, has been described as a “merciless commentary on social, political, and religious hypocrisy”. In my depictions there are only white men, as sleeping subjects, no nightmares or monsters tormenting them – in this epoch in which the author has long since been declared dead – these apparitions can now only exist in the mind of the viewer.

Sleep 01


sleep 03

Bleek_DigitalCatalogue-67More recently I’ve started to explore my personal archive of memories and experiences – restaging and re-performing some of these. I’ve also moved away from the Afrikaner per se and started looking more at whiteness and masculinity as a set of complex relationships that involves aspects such as agency and social contract.

The Dwang-portraits, for example, 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 pre-adolescent boys in state schools had to undergo during the 1980s. By replacing the model with an adult male, these works question issues of agency and complicity.

KD: What are the aims of your photographs? What do you want to tell the audience? Are the photographs supposed to serve the common good or serve you in any way?

RS: For me the photographs are documents of a personal exorcism – a process of working through, and letting go of my inherited identity baggage. I hope that the images offer the viewer an alternative to hegemonic representation and facilitate the discourse around post-apartheid and postcolonial white masculinity – in a way provide different ways of being.

KD: I think you’re brutally honest in your art. Aren’t you too harsh, blunt in representing Afrikaners‘ identity in your artworks?

RS: I believe that radical repositioning calls for candid responses. Having said that, my images are informed by deliberate intertextual relationships that draw on specific visual traditions. So when I say candid, it is in reference to photography as medium and the way it is popularly received.

The proverbial ‘person on the street’ doesn’t tend to associate violence with the performance of gender or identity – but there is a certain exertion to Afrikaner masculinity that is culturally informed and sanctioned. The coercion to fit in, and to be a man, often manifests violently in Afrikaner culture. A very recent example is a murder case currently tried in a regional court in a town called Vereeniging (translated: Unity) involving the brutal death of a teenager, Raymond Buys, at a so-called bootcamp. The young man’s parents claimed to have sent him to the camp to make a better man of him. Buys died after being tortured for not being tough enough. These kinds of atrocities are committed because Afrikaner men believe it is their right and duty to uphold this kind of cultural chauvinism.

Related to this and other similar incidents is a video work called Dwang/oudisie  #2 (Jeugweerbaar) [translated: under coercion/audition (youth preparedness)]. This video piece addresses the notion of cultural masochism. Hegemonic cultural practices are often perceived to be inescapable and may lead to an internal masochistic conflict between belonging and dissent. A young adolescent is incapable to perform the physical challenges expected of him. His personal motivational laments become a mantra of his fated desperation and failure. The original audio and visuals are taken from television documentaries.

jeugweerbaarKD: You’re showing rather unpleasant experiences, like rape, in the photographs. Is it difficult to convince people to take part in such a project?

RS: I always discuss my ideas with potential models. Some of images and video pieces can be very violating – such as the video piece Dwang/oudisie #1 (translated: under coercion/audition). The soundtrack consists of interviews taken from an illicitly downloaded amateur porn film in which young Afrikaans men audition for roles. In broken English and with strong Afrikaans accents the young men discuss their sexual encounters, preferences and taboos. Headshots of different young men (my own models) being examined in the manner of public school medicals of the apartheid era overlays the sound snippets. The juxtaposition of visuals and audio presents a probing examination of the manner in which male Afrikaner sexuality is performed.

There have been people who have declined to be part of my work – and I respect that. At the same time I would prefer not to unwittingly include somebody whose views oppose what I’m trying to express.

Dwang OudisieKD: Who/what is your greatest inspiration?

RS: Currently I find great impetus from this answer by the artist Barbara Kruger on the question ‘what must change?’

“Everything that makes the world a more dangerous, greedy, power-abusing, toxic, tragic place: torture, arrogance, war, road rage, imperiousness, envy, belief without doubt, racism, sexism, triumphalism, the pathologies of surveillance, disease, snark, drought, earthquakes and the love of guns. Stuff like that…”


This is an edited transcript of an interview with Karolina Drejerska for Afryka.Org published online earlier this year (19-01-2015). Original Polish version here

I have since left the employment of NWU.