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Jong Afrikaner

Afrikaner Others

by Nadine Botha / 29.06.2012

How can you tell a whitey from an Afrikaner? A dire matter in the context of international relations and national security, I know. I mean, who is a boer and who is a brother?

Bringing us that much closer to absolute racial transparency is Jong Afrikaner, showing at the Commune 1 gallery in Cape Town until 26 July. With the vim of a true ethnographer, artist Roelof Petrus van Wyk has drawn a scientifically objective sample group of Afrikaners from his friends and photographed them from all four sides with a stylistic emphasis on their surface physicality. So much beautified pinky-whiteness on a black background, I can’t say n-n-n-neo-Aryan without stuttering.

With the portraits together as a whole making up the artwork, this is the first time that the full experience of Caucasian hipsters and socialites is being shown in its entirety. Previously, a selection of the photos was shown on the Figures and Fictions exhibition of South African photography at the V&A Museum in London last year. Comprising the work of 17 photographers, it is noteworthy that besides isolated images by Jodi Bieber, David Goldblatt and Pieter Hugo, the only photos of white South Africans are Van Wyk’s.

To be frank, this is the only explanation I can give for why they were included. That and the fact that white-skinned head-and-shoulders shots floating on black nothingness perpetuates the easy-to-swallow concept of Afrikaners – and whiteys, since who can tell the difference especially if you’re not as finely tuned to racial nuance as a South African is – being completely decontextualized and not belonging in Africa.

When asked why he thinks he was included Van Wyk agrees: “All the work on the show was photographing black people and when there were photographs of white people, it was white people in relation to black people.” Okay, he’s level-headed I’m thinking, maybe I got it all wrong.

No: “My work is about white people in relation to white people and what it means to be white, not in relation to black people but within our own specific culture,” he goes on. Oh, of course you’re making art about white people for white people, what a noble cause. Not narcissistic at all. (“I’m an artist, what do you expect?” he replies to that accusation later).

“[The exhibition] is also a critical evaluation of white people and how I believe whiteness has become broken down to become much more inclusive, in an African way of looking and absorbing, and broadening what it means to be African.” Funny, seeing a whole bunch of white people in a room by themselves doesn’t exactly convey that message to me. It is also a sad indictment on South Africa that an artist would seek to “Africanise” by showing Afrikaners through a racist lens, as though being African is being the subject of racism.

Over lunch Van Wyk tries to explain by telling me the stories behind the photos: one Afrikaner married a Zulu man, another Afrikaner became a sangoma, an Afrikaner gay couple adopted a black child, and a teenage Afrikaner learnt to play the saxophone in the township. Really I’m not interested though as firstly it seems like clutching at straws and secondly no one who goes to the gallery is going to be privy to that information, since the works do not even have names, or explanations, beneath them – like old ethnographic photographs.

Unfortunately it’s a cliché, but one does tend to see this kind over-produced, under-conceived artwork coming from artists brought up in the advertising industry. Van Wyk himself boasts that he has about 25 Loeries to his name from his days as creative director and owner of Trigger, with Gavin Rooke.

Jong Afrikaner

“This is not an ad campaign for Afrikaners, you can quote me on that one,” he explicates, exasperated by questions of how this representation vindicates Afrikaners? How can he call his selection process inclusive? What preconceived ideas of Afrikaners are challenged by the work? And how would this exhibition would go down in Khayelitsha? He’s a nice guy and he bought me lunch. However, it just seems that the work simply does not stand up to rigorous questioning.

It’s easy to think that showing a historically racist ethnographic grouping, in a historically racist photographic format, is ironic and that irony is redeeming. To then hang these portraits of a historically racist ethnographic grouping, who are increasingly the victims of an ironic racism themselves – even though everyone knows that they are still financially and socially advantaged – in an elite inner-city gallery and invite everyone over for a glass of wine is… I have no words. It really just seems like a mockery of the grave dehumanization of ethnographic photography!

One point that I do concede to Van Wyk is that for the photographing of white people in South Africa to become less problematic, then we need a lot more varied representations than simply David Goldblatt’s open-ended empathy and Roger Ballen’s monsters. Maybe the question to ask is why there are so few photographic representations of white people in South Africa?

*Jong Afrikaner is showing at Commune 1 gallery in Cape Town until 26 July.

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RESPONSES (21)
  1. Jeffrey says:

    White South African identity has always been defined through its realtionship with Black South Africans. So yeah like the writing, jiggle jiggle

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  2. Magumbo says:

    Not sure where the Jiggle is in this piece.

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  3. zo says:

    This is the informed black perspective. ‘So fucking what?’
    The uninformed black perspective, ‘So fucking what?”

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  4. Jeffrey says:

    “So fucking what?” that about sums it up I think. Them titties son! They should be jiggling!

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  5. Sis Aryan by birth says:

    If the defining attribute of this project was meant to be the “Afrikaner”, then it would have been very cool for the artist to include so-called-coloured people in his group of subjects. Seems like a missed opportunity.

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  6. hlangu says:

    Why aren’t we seeing the full nekkidity???

    That would at least put it on a level with the old anthropological etchings and shit of black South Africans…and might even turn it into a cute little statement about ‘native’-ness…

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  7. Eugene says:

    Goed so! Ek dink die uitstalling is n klomp draadtrekkery. Ek en my hip vriende en my 25 loeries hoera!

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  8. Michael says:

    My kingdom for Yolandi’s nipple. Afrikaans chicks are hot.

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  9. Rupert says:

    To the writer. If you don’t like the photography, and you don’t like the motive of the artist, and you can’t find any satisfying meaning in the art, and you feel the need to tell the world of these woes, that’s fine. When it comes to art, there should be indisputable space for each individual’s tastes and interpretations. This space allows well-informed critiques such as yours to gain wider exposure, and we all benefit, artist included. But do you have to be so goddamn prissy about it? So what if they were drinking wine at the gallery opening? So what if he worked in advertising? And since when has narcissism been an obstacle to great art? It makes your otherwise interesting observations painful to read.

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  10. Babelfish says:

    Hardly representative I’d say. They are all way too thin.

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  11. ParkaBoy says:

    I’m with Babelfish. I grew up in Pretoria West, now an exhibition of the folks round there standing around in the nud, that would be something to see.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    what a terrible piece of writing. After ripping the guy apart form producing a series of beautiful portraits of a particular group of people, you conclude by asking

    “Maybe the question to ask is why there are so few photographic representations of white people in South Africa?”.
    Maybe the answer is because idiots like you writing unthinking cliche ridden responses to artwork representing while people.
    This article is bad on so many levels. You use the word racist repeatedly and indiscriminately. The article rests on the tired assumption that readers are all going to applaud your ad infinitum pc references. You hold the artist hostage to your immature assumptions. You need to think more, read more and take your ego down several notches before you write about another artist ever again. It makes me angry that someone with a talent for photography – who has taken time to create nuanced work – has to be subjected to a writer who hasn’t paid any attention to their craft and the responsibility they bear in pronouncing judgement. You have to earn the right to be a critic – a role this writer doesn’t deserve. I find phrases like “So much beautified pinky-whiteness on a black background, I can’t say n-n-n-neo-Aryan without stuttering” offensive. I’m Irish, living here since “94 and fed up with reading the word racist and having to apologize for drinking a glass of wine in an art gallery.

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  13. Rambo says:

    Where does ‘your own specific culture’ end? Clearly, Afrikaans-speaking coloured people don’t count.

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  14. Zog says:

    I agree with the poster that said the models were all too thin and sexy looking. Many whites are as ugly as fuck.

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  15. cnut says:

    I ALWAYS stop reading after someone still uses the word hipster!

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  16. Anonymous says:

    All I took out of this is that if we dont criticize what we do, we can never become better at what we do. I disagree with the author on most of her points, but at least someone is giving an opinion instead of us all just agreeing that something is good, just because our world is so small and the artist is a friend of a friend, etc… If we subscribe to that sort of mentality we just stay provincial and actually in this case even smaller. Lets discuss things, and question things…ist that what art is about. well that, and pictures of naked semi-famous people.

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  17. Roelof van Wyk says:

    I would like to extend an invitation to everyone to see the exhibition for themselves and form their own critical ideas about the work. If you message me i will gladly try and answer your questions in person, in context, in reference to a long history of Portraiture and Photography, and hopefully we can have a meaningful dialogue.

    The artist.

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  18. Michael says:

    That makes two recent shows Yolandi’s in: this one and Kannemeyer’s at Stevenson in JHB. Baby’s on fire.

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  19. carcrashmagnet says:

    truth be told Sis Aryan

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  20. Ronee Robinson says:

    Not an impressive article. In stead of reviewing the work itself, you judge it from the point of view of your own agenda.

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  21. peripheral says:

    I don’t think the term ‘Afrikaner’ can be uprooted from its white connotations – no self-respecting black Afrikaans-peaking person (coloured, in old SA-speak) I know would want to label themselves Afrikaners, so i have no problem with the whiteness of the show. I also understand the narcissism, because young white Afrikaners probably feel a pressing need to identify themselves as something other than thick-necked racist boers. But what i dislike about this exhibition is that it uses the familiar glitzy language of advertising photography completely uncritically and unreflexively. The photographs are stripped of context, they are posed, the lighting is artificial. I suspect there has been some photo-editing along the lines of airbrushing to make the skin smoother and whiter. These people are goods in a shop-window. This makes the exhibition nothing more, and also nothing less, than an advertising campaign for young Afrikanerhood. So – it leaves us a choice of ‘buy or not’. I choose not to.

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