Bleek - Richardt Strydom

Johannesburg Art Gallery

A solo exhibition by Richardt Strydom curated by JAG's Contemporary Curator Musha Neluheni, BLEEK encompasses a number of photographic series that sets out to interrogate the performance of white masculinity from different points of entry. The word 'bleek' means pale. The exhibition title suggests not only pigmentation but also bleakness, and alludes to an embodied state that is “beyond the pale”.

Strydom restages and re-performs memories and experiences from his his personal archive, examining complex and fraught relationships that involve aspects such as agency and social contract.

"In 1983 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 white 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" - recalls Richardt Strydom

The artist comments on institutional violence that underpins white colonial identities and its postcolonial aftermath, as well as the militarisation of boyhood and male adolescence, which was the order of the day while he was growing up during the last decades of the apartheid regime.

The dismantling of socially constructed hegemonies is a recurring motif in both the artworks and the curation. The exhibition was partially installed in a decommissioned section of the gallery scheduled for restoration.

“...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” - Dr Christi van der Westhuizen from 'This is not violence', BLEEK exhibition catalogue.

Dubul’ iBhunu portraits
Inspiration for this series of portraits derives from the title of Kenyan author and philosopher Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s 'Decolonizing the Mind'. It becomes a metaphor for the purging and decentering of hegemonic identity.

The title of the Dubul’ iBhunu portraits series references the lyrics of the song 'Aye saba amagwala' - a rally cry from the era of the struggle against apartheid and white oppression in South Africa.

In 2010 South Gauteng High Court determined it unconstitutional to publicly utter or sing the phrase “dubul’ibhunu” (“shoot the boer”) in the country - saying that the lyrics "were prima facie incitement to murder". But, in the Strydom's opinion, as far as signification goes, the court's ruling is myopic, as it is premised on a binary presumption regarding the presumed orator's identity.

This sound piece, entitled Lied van jong Suid Afrika is a mash-up of reworked versions of the struggle song ‘Ayesaba amagwala’ and the Afrikaner Nationalist song referenced in the title. The original Afrikaans song, which purports to be an anthem to mark the birth of a new nation, is arranged back to front. The ‘Dubul’ iBhunu’ lyrics were then arranged to overlay this wrong-way-around melody.

"I wanted it to have the same rousing sound (and amateur performance) as those old Afrikaner nationalist songs, but with the disjuncture that the new lyrics bring to it. It becomes a kind of sonic palimpsest of South Africa's opposing historical binaries" - says Strydom

Strydom also makes a point of turning his gaze on himself to frame his own complicity - aware of his privilege and agency to alternate between author/viewer/perpetrator and subject.

Dwang portraits
The Dwang portraits are informed by a personal childhood memory. The Afrikaans word 'dwang' translates as 'duress'. Although ostensibly erotic, these images conjure up the unpleasant experience of forced public medical examinations administered by state doctors that pre-adolescent boys in South African state schools were subject to during the 1980s.

Replacing the model with an adult male acts as a corrective repeat and questions issues of agency and complicity.

"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" - Dr Christi van der Westhuizen, from 'This is not violence', BLEEK exhibition catalogue.

In this video piece a number of the young men from Strydom's Dwang portraits series are subjected to invasive prodding in the manner of public school medicals.

The close cropped visuals strip the models of individuality and often reduces the person to a receptive orifice. The visuals overlay a soundtrack taken from the interview sections of an amateur adult film in which young Afrikaans men audition for roles. The juxtaposition of visuals and audio presents a probing examination of the manner in which male Afrikaner sexuality is performed.

Artist biography

Richardt Strydom's art explores the public/private boundaries of cultural and art traditions and identity, as these intersect with everyday life. South African Resistance Art of the late 1980s and early 1990s has had a lasting influence on his oeuvre and art making.

He has received a number of South African art awards and has exhibited locally and internationally. Strydom’s work is included in a number of South African public collections and is the subject of academic and scholarly research.

Credits: Story

Curator Musha Neluheni

Die lied van jong Suid Afrika Acknowledgements and references

Ayesaba amagwala – Original arrangement: Collins Chibane.

Die lied van jong Suid Afrika – Music: Hugo Gutsche [arrangement Dirkie de Villiers] Words: Eitemal (1940).

2012 reversed arrangement: Franco Prinsloo.

Credits: All media
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