AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

Confronting Afrikaners’ cultural masochism
Ang Lloyd | October 22nd, 2013

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South African artist Richardt Strydom’s photography is beautiful to me – albeit it in a perverse, guilty kind of way. Through self-observation and re-positioning, his art challenges ideas of power, agency and complicity through analysing and dismantling notions of Afrikaner male identity: “In my experience my forefathers, the previous generation, were the only ones to speak – the only ones who were heard and the ones who forced their agency upon everyone and everything […] In their wake there are no spaces, not even the private, that remain untainted and undefiled. But I no longer consider their words as truth – their yarns of fancy and oppression. Their constructed identity and myths have long since become the objects of my dismantling.”

Strydom believes that, due to apartheid’s legacy of violence, hatred, and domination, certain Afrikaners have long been unable to “speak in a credible voice”. For them, Afrikanerdom’s legacy has been one of guilt and shame; underlined by a sense of ‘cultural masochism’ which has warped their identity, while it has created a ‘persecution complex’ for others.

Strydom explains, “Philosopher Johann Rossouw said that certain Afrikaners today attempt to deal with their sense of fear and disillusionment by resorting to various psychological strategies such as the revival of crude racism, and I think the latest Red October stunt is a good example of this. I also agree with Rossouw who suggests that this fear and disillusionment ‘can easily lead to a state of self-paralysis, where they start convincing themselves that they are a handful of civilised people delivered to an uncivilised, vengeful majority’.”

Violator II (above) is a work that addresses this theme of pseudo-persecution. It’s a double self-portrait that depicts self-inflicted violence, which is underlined by Freudian, Jungian and Nietzschean theories. “The scars and injuries represent psychological scars that manifest physically and may be perceived as both metaphorical and real.” Violator II also deals with the notion that the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ are one and the same: the perpetrator as victim and the victim as perpetrator. “The violence is directed at the Self by its own violent Other-side, while at the same time playing on what Valji et al describe as ‘the mythology that whites are the primary targets of [violent crime] merely because of their race’.”

Speak and Spell (A Verbis ad Verbera - From Words to Blows series 2009)

Violator II forms part of his 2009 series A Verbis ad Verbera – From Words to Blows, which suggests that the Afrikaner male has a “crisis of representation” due to an “inability to speak in a credible voice” because of apartheid’s weighty baggage of ethnic guilt. In another work from A Verbis ad Verbera (above), entitled Speak and Spell, self-harm is evident. In the first frame the words “Daddy Fucked Me” are carved, capitalised onto his forearm, while the second frame depicts Strydom with his tongue split: a grotesque, speechless man-serpent. “In this series of works I try to express a symbolic cultural masochism that stems from the frustration or inability to establish an authentic identity that is free of hegemonic constructed myth – an identity that ceases to be at odds with current reality…A sense of entitlement, after all, is not equivalent to a sense of belonging.”

Strydom further explores notions of ‘cultural masochism’ in his 2012 series White Masks, which is informed by Frantz Fanon’s seminal work and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Decolonising the Mind, which posits that in order to be truly African one has to let go of discourses that frame Africans as ‘other’.

Strydom’s Dubul’ ibhunu (“Kill the Boer”) portraits, which form part of this series, are an arresting comment about Afrikaner identity and a bold, unsettling statement about getting to grips with this uncomfortable, offensive ‘otherness’, and purging it from the modern Afrikaner’s psyche. Strydom adds, “In this body of work I invoke the notion of symbolic self-mortification as a means of transcendence. I see my own work as a representation of ‘being en route’ […] in other words, moving away from a constructed identity towards becoming someone other.”

His latest series delves deeper into notions of power, and the fluidity of identity. Entitled Dwang (“Coercion”), the images primarily focus on violation – and the subsequent subversion of it. During apartheid, it was mandatory for all pre-adolescent boys at state schools to undergo medical checks. Dwang references Strydom’s personal experiences of this: except this time round, the artist is pictured with adult, complicit male models, his fingers fondling their mouths.

Richardt Strydom Dwang 2 (2013)

These images are clearly erotically charged: the oral fixations are incredibly sensual. “I suppose one could argue that there is a pleasure in looking – it is voyeuristic and that is the eroticism of pictures,” says Strydom. “The double coding is intentional. I’m an artist because I’m addicted to images. I feel my interest in the manner images function – or can be exploited to shift meaning – is intimately tied up with the content of my work.”

Another major focus of Strydom’s work is making the private public. “Working with personal memories and experiences is a deliberate decision to delve into the subjective and present the personal archive to the public. The danger in that is that at times I feel it comes off narcissistic or vapid – so there’s also apprehension in that – I see that as part of the ugliness of self.”

According to Strydom, Dwang is about conjuring demons from the past. “I’m forcing myself and the viewer to confront a problematic image. I’m coercing my male peers, members of my ‘in-group’ to re-live a particular unpleasant experience from my own childhood – but one I share with other men of my generation. For me it’s a kind of collective exorcism. The whole context of Afrikaner nationalist education was so absurd that an incident involving a mob of middle aged men sticking their fingers in your mouth straight after fondling an entire school of young boys’ genitals, was an experience that seemed par for the course. It’s only when you reflect on it as an adult that you realise how invasive it was – how violent.”

Richardt Strydom Intaglio 1 (2013)

Strydom’s work is also tied up with the act of looking – and the power play that accompanies it. For him, looking is never a neutral activity, it’s socially constructed. The artist and the model are therefore both depicted in the same frames of his images in order to “show how the artist inscribes or projects eroticism onto the body of the subject – the model, as a knowing subject and participant, is however complicit in this performance.” By doing so, Strydom subverts the old power dynamics of examiner/examinee. The violator’s power is shifted: the victim is now a complicit, consensual adult and not a helpless boy being probed.

Referencing Afrikaners’ struggle to forge an authentic identity, the struggle with ethnic guilt, as well as uncomfortable pre-teenage experiences, his twisted and sensual images attempt to dig deeper into his – and our – psyche. Through this process, he attempts to deconstruct and dismantle his own social conditioning as an Afrikaans man – and ultimately reimagine his sense of self. A self that is not bound, tied and gagged by apartheid ideology.

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Ang Lloyd

Ang Lloyd, based in Johannesburg, is an observer, traveller and storyteller.


4 thoughts on “Confronting Afrikaners’ cultural masochism

  1. Afrikaners have always had a persecution complex. If you go back to the time before the Boer War even, the Afrikaners have always played the victim. They first claimed that they were persecuted by the British Cape colonials when they had to stop having slaves and this made their ‘great trek’ appear to be some sort of deliverance from an evil oppressor when it was really just an opportunity to continue with the oppression of their own slaves. Just like the Zionists, Afrikaner identity is based on the idea that they are they chosen people who have to resort to racism and violence in order to survive. This is also why they hold on so blindly to their ‘taal’ as if it is some magical white person’s language which God created, when in fact it was developed by the mixed race people of the Cape. Afrikaners will only be able to become a real part of South Africa when they realise that they are NOT special, that they are NOT the victims and that they are NOT entitled to anything, regardless of whether their forefathers worked hard to build infrastructure and wealth on the backs of black slaves.

    • Our “taal” is what binds us. And it seems it’s only delusional naïve “liberals” (Not real liberals like myself) that think we should find it offensive that Afrikaans are spoken by others. Why, heaven knows?? It’s a great thing!

      As for guys like Strydom. He “discovers” things that were long discovered by many of us, even during Apartheid. Living and working with other races was normal, as not everyone grew up in big cities like most Afrikaners and black folk. Many seem to think if Johannesburg was very segregated, then the whole of South African should’ve been the same. Well it wasn’t. Sorry if you are misled.

      At the end of the day, South Africans in the new South Africa, has one thing in common with South Africans in the old South Africa. What is that you might ask? Well you both make all great sheep.

      In the old days South Africans were kept ignorant, and it comes as no surprise as the “new” ones are just, if not more as ignorant. Mass popular opinion, don’t mean things are not true if it’s not “popular”.

      History has a funny way of repeating those that are quick to deny certain things.

      As for the mass hysteria of Red October, typical popular opinion, not understanding what things like hate crimes are for example. South Africans in general was never really in sync with the rest of the world ever, usually 10 years behind.

      Seems there are many “black supremacists” who were more open minded then the Red October haters. (Which might explain their narrow minded opinions) Like I said, sheep, controlled by mass media and popular opinion….(Zero backbone like their National Party parents…..)

      http://www.henrileriche.com/2013/10/22/redoctober-spot-the-racist/

  2. I am a proud Afrikaner and have none of the guilt or shame issues that this so-called artist has. He seems like someone who was brought up in a very narrow super conservative and patriachical family. Clearly he has father-issues, and now he is silly enough to project his hatred onto all of us. Shame, he is pathetic.
    As for Red October, I take my hat off to the men and woman who had the guts to stand up to the racist hate crime and violence inspired by the both Zuma and Malema’s singing of Kill the Boer, Shoot the Farmer and other forms of ant-white/Afrikaner propaganda – this article being an example. These black Marxist racists are deliberating inspiring black people to commit a creeping genocide.
    Besides clear psychological issues Strydom is a leftist lunatic who clearly likes kicking the dog when it is down. His art is clear hate speech as Afrikaners have no political power in their own country, has been legislated out of the workforce and is subject to systematic genocide. Strydom clearly has no shame and he is the stuff that bullies are made of. He is the equivalent of a Nazi sympathising jew in Hitler’s Germany. He is clearly got mental health issues.

  3. Well Done to Richard Strydom. Some demons cannot just be ignored because “boetie n man pis deur sy oe nie”. If all the scars the National Party left on everything it touched can be crudely unearthed exposed and dealt with like this, perhaps some day the Afrikaner Psyche can be healthy again.

    I wish – this kind of exorcism was possible for lost generation of boys that was sent to the “Grens” who STILL never breathe a word about it. Some generations al lost forever. Applause to Richard for addressing the legacy, and exposing the truth. I expect complaints (like those above) because true art, afflicts the soul – a place rarely visited by Afrikaner men.

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