Archives for posts with tag: African photography

kingpin - White masks seriesThe exhibition, Rethinking Kakotopia, is based on a premise that transgressive visual interpretation of kakotopia should, and sometimes does, play an important role in creating awareness of a crisis of exclusion and violence in the world today.

Literature describes a kakotopian society as one where the citizens live in a dehumanised state, and in fear and suspicion of the outside world and each other.

I contributed three works, from the White Masks series, that picture the grotesque fall-out of the dystopian paranoia of hegemonic agency under threat.

The observer

The Orator hite masksRethinking Kakotopia is on at University of Johannesburg Gallery until 4 Oct 2017.

Artists include: Diane Victor, Vusi Beauchamp, Kim Berman, Conrad Botes, Paul Emmanuel, Gordon Froud, Pauline Gutter, Setlamorago Mashilo, Collen Maswanganyi and Collin Cole. Curated by Derek Zietsman.



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:

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.


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.


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.



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.

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.

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_13The 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)


“They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth” – Sartre (1963:7).

As a child, growing up in Oudtshoorn, I can’t recall having an awareness of Culture. The town is endowed with many beautiful historical buildings and obviously has a rich history – but such things are taken for granted through the eyes of a child who doesn’t know any other place. In school we were taught local history like the origin of the town and its naming after Baron Pieter van Rheede van Oudtshoorn, who was appointed Governor of the Cape in 1772, but who died en route to Africa; and of the ostrich feather boom (but with no mention of the Jewish contributions in this regard). I also remember going on a school field trip to Arbeidsgenot, the home of the Afrikaans writer and poet C.J. Langenhoven. The house was musty and stuffy, but in the garden was the most wondrous thing – a glistening sundial that told the time by its relative position to the sun.

In 1983, the year before I was to leave the sleepy Little Karoo for the industrial heartland of South Africa (the Vaal Triangle), I was selected, along with three other boys from my school to attend Die Eerste Dinkskrum vir Afrikaner Jeug (The First Think Tank for Afrikaner Youth). Middle-aged men in brown suits with moustaches and thick-rimmed glasses told us about the rooi- and swartgevaar . In our small groups we were tasked to devise plans to fight communism and to protect the Republic. Soon afterwards the daily school routine would start with orchestrated searches for terrorists’ limpet mines hidden around every corner and/or in every dustbin. This was followed up with regular evacuation and security drills. At school, we were taught how to cower under desks in case of terrorist attacks and to always lie with your feet towards – and your head away – from an exploding hand grenade. I was 12 and suddenly the world had become a very dangerous place.


So, then, in 1984 I joined my mother and elder sister in Vanderbijlpark. They had just moved out of a semi-detached duplex into a three-bedroom house in the suitably named working class suburb of C.E.3. From our gate one could see Sharpeville. On 3 September of that same year this township would erupt in violence and terror after on-going demonstrations and stay-aways led to violent and bloody clashes with the police force. At night we would go to bed with music loud on cassette players , or with the radio turned on, to drown out the sounds of gunshots and screams. In the mornings all the children of the neighbourhood had to wait at their front gates to be collected by an armed gunman who would then escort us to school. In these army guarded schools we were fed the myths of Afrikaner Nationalism, constructed two generations earlier by Afrikaner male intelligentsia. We learned about jeugweerbaarheid (youth preparedness) and geestesweerbaarheid (spiritual preparedness). Satan incarnated, strangely, as communist ideology, joined the fray of dangers and through pop music he threatened to corrupt our minds and turn us against our country and our parents, and our race – it was a total onslaught.

I had been a promising adolescent, raised according to the principles of Western culture – or at least as much of a semblance there had remained of that after three centuries in Africa. Mine was an identity carefully constructed and policed by my elders. I could speak the language, but the words held no meaning, they left a bitter taste. They stuck like vomit to my teeth, to recall Sartre’s phrase. I fear that there are still many corners of my mind buried under the residual indoctrination. However, through my processes of art making I began to dismantle this strange heart of whiteness that I was coerced to wear.

This is an excerpt from a personal response to Sartre’s preface to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched Of The Earth upon re-reading the book earlier this year. The title of this piece refers to the line in which Sartre states that “…the European has only been able to become a man through creating slaves and monsters”.


“South African artist Richardt Strydom’s photography is beautiful to me – albeit it in a perverse, guilty kind of way. Through self-observation and re-positioning, his art challenges ideas of power, agency and complicity through analysing and dismantling notions of Afrikaner male identity…”

– Ang Lloyd from:

Confronting Afrikaners’ cultural masochism – Africa is a Country