Helena Uambembe: Listening to images of 32 Battalion

by Keely Shinners

From 1966 to 1990, during the Apartheid era in South Africa, an estimated 600,000 men — most of them school-leaving white men — were conscripted for national military service in the South African Defence Force (SADF). They underwent training and were deployed to fight against liberation movements in Namibia and Angola. [1] These conflicts in neighbouring countries have been rather vaguely described as the Border War, both at the time and in contemporary literature. They formed a part of the National Party’s total response to what it perceived as a total onslaught of communism and African nationalism, and as a result, the state regularly enacted violence against its own citizens in an attempt to suppress anti-Apartheid resistance in South Africa. [2] A useful way to think about the function of the SADF might be found in Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics (2019): “Power … continuously refers and appeals to exception, emergency, and a fictionalised notion of the enemy. It also labours to produce the same exception, emergency, and fictionalised enemy.” [3] 

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Jon Berndt: Imagined Billboards

by Keely Shinners

This essay examines three posters from Jon Berndt’s Imagined Billboards series (2005-2010), a body of work which has yet to be critiqued, due largely to Berndt having positioned himself outside the structures of the South African art industry. So too because the works were only exhibited after his death, in a seminar room named in his honour in the Arts Block at the University of Cape Town.    

Seeing as there is little published material regarding Jon Berndt’s life and career, some biographical detail is warranted to understand what drove him to create the Imagined Billboard series [1]. Particularly potent for me is how the Billboards, which were proposed towards the end of his life, synthesise Berndt’s interests in art, activism, study and design.

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Art harmonious: an interview with Lizette Chirrime

by Keely Shinners

Lizette Chirrime is on a mission to heal us all. Her work, characterised by rich, hand-stitched recycled textiles weave together complex stories about trauma and reconciliation, ancestry and rebirth. Her simultaneously corporeal and abstract figures treat the body⁠ – as Chirrime specifies, the femme body⁠ – not as a site of exploitation, but mutability. But it’s not just about the artworks. There’s something restorative about Chirrime’s way of being-in-the-world. Perhaps it’s the space she creates for herself, so well-curated with objects holy and homemade. Perhaps it’s how she listens to the world around her, sensitive to the violence we continue to enact on the earth and each other, while refusing to tunnel into pessimism. Perhaps it’s the way she respects herself, speaking both candidly about her vulnerabilities and confidently about her life’s work.

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White/Left: the discursive cartoons of Stacey Stent

by Keely Shinners

Aristocrats’ potbellies swell out of their suits. Politicians’ heads balloon as one defamatory statement after another pours out of their overgrown mouths. This is the language of the political cartoon. It’s satirical and hyperbolic, cutthroat and to the point. It’s the language through which cartoonists are able to talk about power. The cartoonist draws attention to all that is criminal, atrocious and corrupt about those in power, while, at the same time, upends their authority, making them out for fools. South African political cartoons, for the most part, follow these same tropes, both visually and thematically. See, for instance, the work of Zapiro, Derek Bauer, Anton Kannemeyer, Conrad Botes, and Mogorosi Motshumi, to name a few. [1]

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