Archives for posts with tag: whiteness

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


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.

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.