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Willem Boshoff

“Proud to be labelled Racist”

by Sean O’Toole / 08.09.2011

Seven years ago, the Druid of Kensington, a big bearded man with unkempt hair, kindly smile and encyclopaedic knowledge of language, exhibited his stuff – stones, bread rolls, old tools, 96 full bibles, 18 maps, two “manipulated” puzzles – at a Parkwood gallery. His mood at the time was unsettled and confused, but not immune to surprise, possibly even delight. Which is why he entitled his exhibition of stuff Nonplussed.

As part of his showing at the yacht permanently dry-docked on the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Chester Road, the big druid installed a wire mesh cage (or gabion) filled with stones. Some of the stones he painted black and arranged in such a way that they spelt out the name “JERUSALEM”. The kicker was his use of red stones to fill out the fourth, fifth and sixth letters of the holy city, “USA”. Israel and America. Geddit? The creepers surrounding the sculptural statement sure did: they were trampled flat during the intensive installation period. For weeks, the bearded magician’s over-determined labour was visible in the path of dead creepers.

Willem Boshoff
Willem Boshoff, Crusade, 2011, wood

Willem Boshoff, the Kensington resident who last year installed himself in a cubicle at Arts on Main and led daily Druid Walks along Main Reef Road, has a knack for making heavy-handed opening statements that cloud the enquiring sophistication and humour of his work. Take his current Parkwood exhibition, SWAT, which charts the artist’s shift from discomfit and nonplussed-ness to something else, a kind of action-orientated gatvol-ness.

Like Martin Luther, the German cleric and theologian who long ago heralded the protestant reform movement in northern Europe with his 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, Boshoff recently spent some time doing an agitated stock take of his grievances. Etched onto a shiny metal surface, his complaints are affixed to a wall next to the ladies bog at the entrance to the Goodman Gallery. Where Luther came up with 95 things that pissed him off about the Catholic Church’s “ignorant and wicked” doings, the Boshoff only managed 24 sentences on why he is “proud to be labelled racist in South Africa”.

Willem Boshoff
Willem Boshoff, I am proud to be labelled racist in South Africa if it means that, 2011, metal

The brevity may have something to do with the fact that his list was compiled at night. It is not all that far-fetched to speculate that the avuncular mystic of Kitchener and Roberts avenues was either interrupted by the shrill wail of a burglar alarm, or a work-stopping Eskom-sponsored dark. After all, as Boshoff empathically declares in his text panel, “I find the severe, prolonged power failures unacceptable”, and “I appreciate security walls, electrical fences, alarms and guard dogs”.

There is a kind of stuck poetry to Boshoff’s disquisition on his current disquiet, which dully introduces his current solo exhibition. “I am revolted by ineffective, dim-witted 4 x 4 politicians,” reads the first of his twenty-four sentences, which are stacked like bricks. “I am shocked…” “I am dismayed…” “My temper rises…” “I fly into a rage…” “My blood boils…” The bearded magician’s anxious prose poem argues its case with solipsistic gusto.

In channelling his own furies, one presumes that Boshoff is also aiming to express a larger zeitgeist. Again, it is not a far-fetched a speculation. Through the doors, on your left, there is a rectangular piece of woodwork – it looks like a modernist skyscraper – that quotes Muhammad Ali’s magisterial two-word poem, “Me, we.” But who is this supposed we?

Willem Boshoff
Willem Boshoff, Me, we, 2011, wood

There are moments when the Druid of Kensington’s riposte to daily life in this land shaped by men with first names like Jan, Cecil, Paul, Louis, Nelson, Jacob and Julius reads like an angelic transcript of conversations happening around braais in Sunward Park, Birchleigh, Glenvista, Witkoppen, Rooihuiskraal, Moreleatpark, Akasia, Bothasig, Skoongesig, Langenhoven Park, Bayswater and Winklespruit. The absence of metaphor in Boshoff’s introductory work is patent. “I totally detest corruption by government officials,” reads his final sentence. Perhaps this will be the tenor of the new struggle poetry.

Then again, artists have long been railing against corrupt government officials. Here is Nikolai Gogol, the proto-modernist Russian writer, from the opening of his 1842 short story, The Overcoat: “In one of our government departments… but perhaps I had better not say exactly which one. For no one’s more touchy than people in government departments, regiments, chancelleries or, in short, any kind of official body.” Sound familiar?

Gogol’s next sentence abruptly shifts the focus, his statement offering one possible way to read the baroque plaque that introduces (and mars) Boshoff’s new exhibition of intriguing stuff, including rulers, plastic flies, branches of thorn and fragments of the alphabet. “Nowadays every private citizen thinks the whole of society is insulted when he himself is.”

Willem Boshoff
Willem Boshoff, Swat, 2011, paper, wood, plastic

Willem Boshoff
Willem Boshoff, Swat (detail), 2011, paper, wood, plastic

Willem Boshoff
Willem Boshoff, Bull, 2011, wood, sand

*Opening image credit: Willem Boshoff, Crusade (detail), 2011, wood

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