“Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light”

                                                                           ~ Plato

Mikhael Subotzky (b. 1981, Cape Town) is the only alumnus in the history of the prestigious Michaelis School of Fine Art to achieve a mark of one-hundred percent for his final year. He has since become a world-renowned artist, currently represented by the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. He is the youngest photographer to become an associate member at Magnum Photos, and the first South African artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. He openly declares the influence of David Goldblatt, which is likely one of the most important photographic oeuvres to capture South Africa’s colonialist history, evidenced through his characteristic depiction of the landscape and its people.

Subotzky grew up within a certain cultural pedigree of social democracy, and it is from this backdrop that ‘struggle photography’ played an important role in his work, particularly the work of his uncle, activist Gideon Mendel. Another influence in this regard is the work of prolific Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, who’s work captures the tenacity of the human spirit within landscapes of sheer desolation and alienation. Subotzky takes his cue from these influences, depicting the fortitude of human beings, despite their inherent fragility and unstable nature, amidst dire situations and against all odds.

Subotzky uses the divide between the rural and the urban to communicate the ambiguity of inside/outside perceptions, focussing core binaries: accepted versus rejected, enlightened versus alienated, diffuse versus concentrated, and abandon versus restraint. His images suggest various culturally assumed socio-political norms and perceived ‘A priori givens’ within South Africa. He does so in the wake of Apartheid, but goes further to uproot the underlying opposition between oppression and emancipation, examining the uneasy grasp that most South Africans have as they attempt to build a sense of identity, marred by the  apathetic in an infantile democracy still jaundiced and anchored by its unjust past of racial segregation and quasi-totalitarianism. Subotzky reveals the historico-economic hierarchies of ethnicity and status that exist in Post-Colonial South Africa. More specifically, he finds his artistic voice in the context of specific power structures, such as notorious prisons, historic gangs, iconic architecture – all signifiers of authority and control, products of containment and repudiation. His images document the broadly accepted politics of degradation, prejudice, victimization and desperation to be found in many sectors of South African society, tracing the remnants of a recycled Apartheid infrastructure.

“The prison, that darkest region in the apparatus of justice, is the place where the power to punish, which no longer dares to manifest itself openly, silently organizes a field of objectivity in which punishment will be able to function openly as treatment and the sentence be inscribed among the discourses of knowledge.”

                                                                     ~ Foucault*

The prison is an overarching archetype in relation to the city and its structures, be it in the form of power, architecture, institutions, placed in contrast to the land and its supposed catharsis. The prison is an analogy leading to the central point: the vast integration of typecast individuals - citizens,  denizens, criminals - into a dominant political system, segregated into castes, creeds and classes, adhering to an invented system of discipline and punishment, which succeeds at the exploitation of human beings as opposed to liberating them. 

Perhaps Subotzky’s most recognisable series to date is his 2004 student thesis project, which he completed for his honors degree at Michaelis. This debut, titled Die Vier Hoeke (The Four Corners), referencing the interior geometry of a prison cell, is a series of gripping panoramic photographs of prisoners at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison in Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela spent many years of his political imprisonment. Pollsmoor is notorious for its overcrowding, questionable correctional techniques, and gang related violence. Following the writings of Levi-Strauss, Die Vier Hoeke marks Subotzky’s first critical analysis of the history of the prison system in South Africa, where for three months he lived with the prisoners, establishing his conceptual foundation: immerse oneself in the situation, develop relationships with ones subjects, and expose the hidden structures that engineer the status quo. To compliment his anthropological inquiry, Subotzky introduced dystopian elements of Orwellian fiction, coupled with the post-structuralist discourse of Foucault – all elements that inform the core of his work to this day.

After Die Vier Hoeke Subotzky compiled his infamous Beaufort West series, which documents the day-to-day life of a near-forgettable roadside town situated on South Africa’s longest national highway, the N1. One would be forgiven for simply passing through this distant hamlet in the middle of the Karoo desert; never realizing that a prison lies at the heart of the town, situated within a large traffic circle that abruptly interrupts ones journey through the endless landscape of the Karoo.  A dark socio-economic underbelly contrasts with the mundane timbre of this humdrum town. This is a contrast that transforms ones understanding of incarceration, inverting the notion of the prison; the outside, the rural, becomes the four corners. The geographical positioning of this prison-town in contrast to urban centre’s, Johannesburg and Cape Town, is key to understanding Subotzky’s stance on the contradictory ethical principles of the penal system, culled from dated Apartheid structures; all muddled, in disarray, demonstrated by Beaufort West’s history and methods of segregation. All this fermenting within the axis of emancipation and incarceration, and the symbiotic relationship between liberty and fraternity, detailing the harshness of the institution, displaying how the human spirit survives within the inhumane environment of the Panopticon, under the gaze of the ever-present authorities and the spectacle of age-old institutions.
Inverting all previous archetypes for his next project titled Ponte City Subotzky upended his original conception of the Panopticon. Running counter to the original vision of the prison series with more deceptive, ghostly elements of authority and control, he sets the prison within the urban sprawl of downtown Johannesburg. The ‘insider’ qualities of the city come to the fore as the archetypal prison. Subotzky collaborated with British artist Patrick Waterhouse for three years on this project, meticulously piecing together the ineffable domesticity of a high-rise apartment block, monumentalized by the spectacle of an iconic cylindrical 54-story structure called Ponte City in Hillbrow. This building is a veritable breadcrumb trail of socio-political change and economic turmoil. Circa 1994 Ponte City had become a shadow of its former self, a citadel of the Apartheid regime, meant to cater to a generation of ambitious and enterprising young professionals, now plagued by escalating gang violence, which transformed the high-rise into a ghetto. The tallest residential tower block in Africa had now become a Panopticon in-itself, observed from all angles, looking out in all directions. The images in this series are at once introspective and retrospective, reflecting upon the remaining mechanisms of South Africa’s colonialist legacy during the Post-Apartheid era. Although many of the images in this series look outwards towards the city and the distant northern suburbs, they are dominated by an inward feeling, based on the domestic interiors from which they were taken, notwithstanding the unconscious presence of its residents, many of whom are portrayed in Subotzky’s documentation. Subotsky’s Ponte City has a monumental air, comprising of hundreds of contact prints, each print detailing an individual window, interior, and television in Ponte City, presented as three colossal light boxes, suspended within the gallery space.

Subotzky’s work stresses mechanisms of control, power relations, and territory wars governed by augmented structures and prosthetic institutions that stunt growth more than they develop and sustain; where the overall maturation of South Africa is quelled in favor of a select, elite, politically-backed few and their material interests, whilst the proletariat increasingly becomes indifferent; passive-aggressive. His work displays South Africa’s tumult and disorder, unable to develop an infrastructure that can consolidate the effects of Apartheid, failing to contain social degeneration in a country plagued by endemic poverty, crime, and violence. An ode to Plato's Cave, after the dust has settled, the cultural revolution, thought to have been won, is now imprisoned in an ivory tower, franchised by the powers that be in order to manipulate the masses. This is absolute freedom, total abandon, pure war; all in preparation for more dust to settle.

"The history of modern culture during the ebb tide of revolution is thus the history of the theoretical and practical reduction of the movement for renewal, a history that reaches as far as the segregation of minority trends, and as far as the undivided domination of decomposition."

                                                                     ~ Debord


Image Copyright © Mikhael Subotzky 2014.
Text Copyright © Shane de Lange 2014.


“Most oppression succeeds because its legitimacy is internalized.”
                                                                            - Chomsky

Capitalism as an economic model is in limbo, Globalization as an industrial method has become a virulent chimera, and Democracy as an ideal has become a clinically distilled and refined form of mediated war; all contributing to a present, omnipresent ‘Xeno-colonialism’. The Occident has long since arrived at a situation that is more than simply 'pure surface', or quasi-religious ‘pure image’; it is to all intensive purposes a calculated systemization and institutionalisation of war. In short,  ‘pure war'.

From a western perspective, the term ‘we’ in itself suggests hegemony. We are dealing with a particular brand of Colonialism, a peculiar form of voyeurism that moves beyond the ‘endo-‘ and the ‘exo-‘ as Virilio would place it. Within such a paradigm it is no longer about the interior or the exterior in the Orwellian sense, or the inside versus the outside in the context of Derrida’s writings. The center has engulfed the edge, arguing Foucault, echoing Fanon, so much so that ‘Pata-‘ and ‘Meta-‘ don’t even feature anymore. This is where the ‘Proto-‘, ‘Post-‘ and ‘Neo-' exchange meanings as freely as the terms Promiscuity and Proximity suggest ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation’. Pure war delivers a rhizomatic, duplicitous ‘Xeno-‘ state; ambiguous and ubiquitous in its schizophrenic drive for wealth and power.

“A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress.”
                                                                             - Marcuse

Captain Post-Exotic & the Xeno-Colonialists is a parody, depicting a future dictated by this Xeno-state, governed by age-old buzz words now developed into institutionalized ideologies and philosophies, such as Postmodernism, Simulacra, the Sublime, the Society of the Spectacle, the Global Village, the Panopticon, and the like; all imploded, mangled within the wreckages of each other’s meanings, histories, identities, pluralities, multiplicities, representations, geographies and/or any other over-used, misinterpreted, and diluted phrases known to contemporary thought. By this measure, such terms can be associated with the exact voyeurism and opportunism they claim to deflect and/or reflect, creating an ulterior voyeurism, simultaneously playing with and against the term ‘Exotic’. Pop and Punk merge at this juncture, and the interplay between the two seemingly opposing genre’s suggests the erasure of both futurism and historicism, leading to the total eradication of difference and henceforth culture, where only the palimpsest remains as the closest analogue to authenticity.

The first published image of Captain Post-Exotic & the Xeno-Colonialists, featured in issue #27 of Ijusi magazine, shows archetypal figures – the Scientist, the Dictator, the Accountant – set within a barren landscape, long since colonised, its resources depleted, its people extinct, its spirit drained. Yet, Man, ‘his’ technology, and ‘his’ Will to Power are still present. Purposefully, a sense of both Historification and Futurism are present by virtue of absence.  The image seems old and dated, yet the subject matter looks as if it is set in the future. The image itself is not authentic, made of multiple images taken from a variety of random sources on the Internet, bearing no direct source or origin, no original space or place from whence it was taken.  Captain Post-Exotic & the Xeno-Colonialists is a total simulation, an absolute image depicting Pure War.

This ideological displacement and temporal disorientation can also be linked to the current measures that are being undertaken in South Africa, on behalf of the government and multi-national corporations, to begin fracking in the Karoo desert, which is feared to destroy one of the country’s most treasured landscapes. In the published Ijusi version of Captain Post-Exotic & the Xeno-Colonialists, which was set within the context of a Vinyl album cover, there is an image on the LP label of Chairman Mao waving goodbye as he waves hello. This is a hint towards the South African governments corporate interests, and the strong ties it has with China. But this sentiment cannot only be localized to South Africa alone, and that is what Captain Post-Exotic & the Xeno-Colonialists stands for: bringing to light the disenfranchisement of a massive underclass of poor people around the world, with indifferent Governments servicing multinational corporations whose only intent it is to meet the needs of the world’s wealthy, ultimately to the detriment of the environment and the planet. 

“Civilization has ceased to be that delicate flower which was preserved and painstakingly cultivated in one or two sheltered areas of a soil rich in wild species […] Mankind has opted for monoculture; it is in the process of creating a mass civilization, as beetroot is grown in the mass. Henceforth, man's daily bill of fare will consist only of this one item.”
                                                                                        - Levi-Strauss

Captain Post-Exotic & the Xeno-Colonialists forms part of a larger body of work titled “Pure-War”. An edition of this image is currently being exhibited as part of a group show titled “The Path Less Deconstructed” hosted by M. Contemporary in Sydney, Australia.


If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”  
                                                                                                      - Orwell.

Sabelo Mlangeni (b. 1980, Driefontein, Mpumalanga) is a Johannesburg-based photographer focusing primarily on perceptions of queerness and gay culture within the backwaters of rural South Africa. He moved to Johannesburg in 2001 to study Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop, completing his studies in 2004. His first solo show titled Invisible Women was held at the now defunct Warren Siebrits gallery in Johannesburg in 2007. Stevenson currently represents him, where he has exhibited his most impactful work to date, notably Country Girls (2003-2009) and Ghost Towns (2009-2011). Mlangeni took-up photography after he began documenting the small towns and rural areas that he encountered whilst growing up, capturing the commonplace, often-abject desolation, particularly in his home province of Mpumalanga.

Mlangeni works exclusively with black-and-white photography, portraying the often ignored and unspoken aspects of life in rural South Africa. His explorations of outsider politics and cultural idiosyncrasies in towns such as Bethal, Driefontein, Ermelo, Piet Retief, Sekunda and Standerton are a testament to a drastically changing society struggling to hold onto its heritage, whilst straining to maintain its integrity in an increasingly globalised world. 

Mlangeni's rural backdrops display the affects of urbanisation on traditional conventions and age-old rites-of-passage. He challenges commonplace African stereotypes about gay culture, depicting often-unseen yet unadulterated, intimate yet non-voyeuristic visions of the artist’s world as a black gay man.

Mlangeni does not bypass tradition, often embracing orthodox African perspectives that may seem archaic in contrast to contemporary understandings of sex and gender. Such traditional perspectives often frown upon the subject of Mlangeni’s work, but he finds virtue in these points of view because they forge a sense of commonality, which he supports in the context of ‘otherness’. 

The exhibitionist and performative qualities of Mlangeni’s images traverse the contrasts between custom and modernity. Contained within a broad understanding of 'otherness', urban and rural, homosexual and heterosexual, eurocentric and afrocentric all fall under the auspices of the traditional. Reiterating the perennial bond between anthropology and photography, and reflecting upon pertinent issues often seen as taboo in rural communities, where tribalism vies against liberalism, Mlangeni exposes the process in which gay African men find their sense of belonging and identity in an often indifferent world. 

"The predicament into which one is thrown, then, is how to imagine identity in the present tense of South Africa's transitional reshaping and reconstitution of its reality; between authenticity and stereotype. For everything seems haunted by this paradoxical affirmation of origin and disavowal of past histories."
                                                                                          - Enwezor
Mlangeni’s subjects are far from affluent; life is not easy for them. This impoverishment is apparent in the environments that he finds them situated. His depictions of small, practically derelict towns, all but forgotten, dissect the notion of  'uSis'bhuti', which brings African gay life to the fore. The term 'uSis'bhuti' describes the manner in which young boys sometimes act like little girls. Mlangeni questions the narrow view implied by 'uSis'bhuti', shunning the fact that gays are seen as 'un-African', or a 'by-product' of Anglicisation, globalisation and democracy. In this way, Mlangeni blurs distinctions between the immigrant with the migrant, the outsider and the insider, the vagrant and the accepted.

Historico-politcal and Socio-economic rifts created by the dualism between the urban and the rural are paramount to Mlangeni’s work. His depictions of, practically abandoned, on-the-edge-of-nowhere, communicate an important shift that has taken place within most African communities. The opportunities and freedom afforded to urban dwellers have never reached these towns, emphasizing age-old scars left unattended, and debts left unpaid. Mlangeni’s portrayal of spaces-in-waiting and people-in-transition ultimately tells the story of the migration of traditions and the effects it has on the rootedness of a given cultural space. The remaining landscape is eerily surreal and isolated, suspended in time, painting an authentic picture of gay life in the countryside.


This essay is the first in a series of twenty texts that document key contributions in contemporary South African photography.

Copyright © Shane de Lange, 2013.


“The name is the end of discourse.” 

                                                                    - Michel Foucault.

What is in a name, other than signifying cancellation? Asha Zero’s paintings are testaments to this question. Even if read as a name, Zero as a moniker would nonetheless signify a vacuum, an indecipherable title with no discernable gender, politics, ethnicity, or socio-economic standing. Much like a brand, Zero interrogates the anonymity of the subject, the value of deception, where information is ubiquitous, and schizophrenia combines with anxiety to construct a benchmark for the here and now. From this basis, Zero appropriates from the media, creating trompe l’oeil painted surfaces that not only resemble collage, but also resign to the conceptual underpinnings of collage. By confronting painting under the rubric of collage, Zero embraces erasure, interference and artifice as the ‘norm’; an indifference-in-difference prompted by Marcel Duchamp, subverted with tremors of Andy Warhol, echoing Richard Hamilton.

Paying homage to the tradition of collage set forth by inter-world-war protagonists such as Kurt Schwitters, Hana Höch, John Heartfleld, Raoul Hausmann, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and Gustav Klutsis to ‘name’ a few, Zero steals once mediated imagery, now weathered and torn, discarded, annotated with graffiti and a plethora of other graphic elements. These sources are all forms of mass communication that once used to conceal yet now somehow reveal. Zero’s voice is a palimpsest, the only way to arrive at something relevant is to combine elements together, to somehow recreate or simulate the notion of ‘otherness’.  Apathy being an agent of the ‘norm’, its symptom being the loss of difference, Zero’s cut-up images are a sign of the times, products of the system, conveying a message of Zeitgeist in Babel. It is within this post-global village landscape where Zero’s portraits declare the status quo staggering upon a bricolage. Zero’s paintings contribute more than just the sum of all parts, unfixing signifiers, stirring up turbulence, all developed from over-communication and an addiction to the media. There is no turning back, only surrender.

"It is only through difference that progress has been made. What threatens us right now is probably what we may call over-communication – that is, the tendency to know exactly in one point of the world what is going on in all other parts of the world. In order for a culture to be really itself and to produce something, the culture and its members must be convinced of their originality […] We are now threatened with the prospect of our being only consumers, able to consume anything from any point in the world and from every culture, but of losing all originality."

                                             - Levi-Strauss.

Zero draws from the conventions of the avant-garde, and the ongoing movements of the underground, including Dada, Punk, and current Street Art and Lowbrow trends. With the world in a state of Information overload, supporting a materialist existence that continually references itself, feeding off of itself, subconsciously inviting one to consume ever more to the point of critical mass and terminal identity, Zero exposes a sales agenda so pervasive that it almost does not need the consumer anymore.

Ideas being objects, with advertising, branding, and corporate intentions signifying the contemporary ideological canon, Zero juxtaposes and superimposes surfaces, concepts, and other communications, treating them in the same manner as objet trouvé, reverse-engineering commonplace broadcasts and points of contact, such as advertisements, magazine spreads, headlines, signs, billboards, posters, album covers, fashion photography and the like. From this archaeological perspective, the numerical digit Zero once again becomes a suitable replacement for the artists name, developing into a mechanism; a cut-up identity, constructing paintings that immediately communicate the primary concerns of collage: intertextuality, appropriation, pastiche, superimposition and juxtaposition.

‘We’ are the subjects of Zero’s portraits, Burroughsian cut-ups – disposable, interchangeable, random, yet somehow structured, serial, and patterned. Where humans once consumed media, it now consumes ‘us’. Zeroed-in, Zero’s work tolerates the extraction of small amounts of barely intelligible bits of information. This information is omnipresent across the painted acrylic surface, but has lost practically all its agency, meaning, and path of ‘origin’. Yet, despite being bereft of a suitable history, Zero’s cut-up images say something powerful about the murky opposition between historicism and futurism:

“When you cut into the present the future leaks out.” 

                                                                                       – Burroughs.

In this sense, Zero’s paintings take advantage of the value-of-deception inherent to popular culture and the mass media, sampling glitches and iterations from mediocrity, re-remixing scraps that have already been Xeroxed, copied, or stolen. Rendering the here and now in bits and pieces, hyphens and splices, Zero’s paintings dictate impossible exchanges through the continuous, looping sedimentation and erosion of information, in-turn generating new, hybridized and mutated forms of meaning. Furthermore, Zero ‘hacks’ the familiar, the commonplace, evading efforts to decipher or extract any fundamental or conclusive meaning.

The world is no longer binary; it isn’t root-like with hierarchies and oppositions. It is now anarchic, a rhizome, where the subject, the self, the one, or whatever analogy there may be becomes an indecipherable cipher within a hum of cellular automata. In a world that has lost all sense of the real, Zero’s paintings numb as much as they stimulate. Paintings become topologies that have been scratched and scrambled, simultaneously multiple and singular, depicting everyman, nothingman, overman; effectively combining the ability to differ and to defer.

“Who’s the parasite and who’s the host?” 

                                                                                       – Burroughs.


This text was first published in the 4th issue of Kolaj Magazine, (Canada, June 2013), titled "Asha Zero: Who's the Parasite & Who's the Host - A Profile by Shane de Lange". It is the latest iteration of a series of negotiations and meditations on Zero's work from the past decade.

Copyright © Shane de Lange, 2013.


"To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture."
                                                                         Frantz Fanon
Under Apartheid, black South Africans were prevented from living within town or city limits, forced to carry special identity documents, under the scrutiny of rigid pass laws. These pass books temporarily granted blacks access to the segregated economic hubs of South Africa, dominated by the minority whites. It was commonplace for migrant black laborers to partake in a grinding daily commute from their townships, often situated far outside the urban centers or within the homelands, only to complete the same journey back at the end every workday.

The pass laws were abolished in 1986, and by 1990, after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, with the dismantling of the Apartheid regime pending; there was a massive influx of people from rural communities into the cities in search of work. Under this mass urban migration, as a means of survival, many people became informal street traders, selling anything from single cigarettes, to bananas, padlocks, and traditional medicines. Through sheer resourcefulness these somewhat vagabond street vendors began to promote themselves using rustic, self-made signage and advertising, almost instinctively utilizing graphic techniques to promote their services and products; peddling their wares in the most derelict of circumstances. Makeshift stalls were littered across the old transport depots, mainly taxi ranks and train stations, many hailing back to the time of the pass laws, and many still in existence to this day. The image below illustrates one such sign, stating “Shoe Repairs Here”. Garth Walker found this sign on an abandoned shopping trolley in front of Durban’s train station in 1994. A truly remarkable piece of hand-lettering, this sign would prove to be the starting-point for the Ijusi vernacular, signifying a pivotal moment in Walker's extensive South African Image Collection, now the largest extant anywhere in the world. 

From shoe repairs to editorial, Ijusi is an experimental magazine first published in the early years following South Africa’s first democratic elections circa 1994. From the beginning Ijusi posed an important question: “What makes me South African, and what does that ‘look’ like?” As was the case with the Soviet Union in 1917, the new social order begets a new visual order. With the demise of Apartheid Ijusi set out to gradually piece together the various cultural polemics, political dichotomies, and social potentialities that have evolved following South Africa’s transit post-1994, with the subtext: ‘If we live in Africa, we should look like Africa...’

Walker released the first issue of Ijusi (above) in early 1995 from his small studio in Durban; then called Orange Juice Design. From its inception Ijusi effectively showcased the burgeoning visual culture of a newborn South Africa. Resultantly, Ijusi has come to be recognized for its quality in diversity across the globe. Over the following years, subsequent issues have made invaluable contributions to ongoing discourses surrounding representation and identity in South Africa, specifically within the context of Graphic Design, Illustration, Typography, Writing, and Photography. 


Ijusi is still independently published by Walker in a small print run, roughly twice yearly from his Durban based graphic design studio, now called Mister Walker. Nearly two decades after the first issue was published, and nearing thirty published issues, Ijusi has become an historic visual record of South African culture, as well as an agitator for afro-centric design.

Ijusi’s influence within the South African design community is unparalleled. The magazine is theme-based, with previous issues focusing on anything from death, pornography, religion, and race, to typography and storytelling, all situated within the colloquial and demotic. Collaboration is another key term, not only amongst creatives in developing towards a finished publication, but also between other design outfits, notably BitterKomix (above). Collected and viewed together, all thirty-odd issues of Ijusi are a concise visual record of South African society since independence, incorporating all the subtleties of transformation, negotiation, and transition; a timeless reminder that design can have a conscience. 

Despite having a print-run in the low hundreds, Ijusi has developed a strong international following, achieving cult status largely due to its rarity and the fact that it has never been commercially for sale. Ijusi has always been free, handed-out to anybody who sees virtue in its perspective. The fact that Ijusi is Africa’s only experimental design magazine is also a factor in its popularity amongst collectors. Ijusi features in the collections of some of the world’s foremost art museums, despite having existed on a wing and a prayer, thanks to the generosity of various creatives, printers and suppliers whom have offered their talents and services gratis over the years.

Reaching the end of its second decade, Ijusi magazine, now accompanied by the Ijusi portfolios, has turned into a canonical body of work, testaments to a developing country effectively dealing with various socio-economic stratifications and cultural dichotomies. More so, Ijusi is a cultural institution, thanks to the combined efforts of South African artists and designers that are actively taking part in this ongoing cultural revolution. Ijusi is often satirical, readily utilizing parody, but the publication has never been a negative or even critical commentary on South Africa. Rather, Ijusi is a path of discovery, helping to establish the wealth of talent, rich traditions, hope and strong sense of heritage within South Africa, with its diverse cultural backgrounds, each with their own contribution to make, exposing a creative poignancy and visual vocabulary that is unrivaled anywhere else. 

For more information on Ijusi, and a concise digital library of all the published Ijusi magazines, visit: .

Text Copyright © Shane de Lange, Garth Walker, 2012.
Image Copyright © Garth Walker, 2012.


If hysteria was the pathology of the exasperated staging of the subject – of the theatrical and operational conversion of the body – and if paranoia was the pathology of organization – of the structuring of a rigid and jealous world – then today we have entered into a new form of schizophrenia – with the emergence of an immanent promiscuity and the perpetual interconnection of all information and communication networks.                                                          Jean Baudrillard (1988: 26)

When Picasso painted Still Life with Cane Chair in 1912 he made a profound contribution to the conversation of art that still resonates today. By combining found material and elements from the media into the painted surface, Picasso effectively breached the barrier between the real world of the viewer and the represented world of the image, heralding the emergence of Synthetic Cubism. Picasso’s hybrid of collage and painting included a clipping from a newspaper that stated “the battle has began”, knowing that the foreboding tradition of painting was under attack, and that a shift was underway in the evolution of the medium, challenging the way human beings perceive things to be, and providing a reservoir of artistic material for decades to come. Cubism incorporated the politics of the canvas, picture frame, and surrounding walls, in effect socializing painting. So too, an emphasis on the multidimensional and conceptual thinking, including the influence psychoanalysis and existentialism, altered the way we see the perceived genius of the artist, asking the question: what is in a name, other than signifying cancellation?

Asha Zero is a painter reverse-engineering these once-anarchic, now-traditional Avant-Garde ideas, hard wiring established Modernist perspectives to suite the needs of a ‘post-postmodern’ world. The numerical digit ‘Zero’ being a pertinent replacement for the authors name, Zero’s reinterpretation of identity and representation in the context of the information age finds an association with Francis Picabia’s Cacodylic Eye (1921), where the artist had his studio visitors sign a canvas on entering, not allowing for one single signature to be credited as the maker of the artwork, composed around a huge eye gazing back at the viewer. Parallel to the estrangement of the author, the use of body parts, particularly mouths and eyes, is a mechanism echoed in all Zero’s work, describing the almost prosthetic, cut and paste identities that humans adopt in contemporary society. Reminiscent of George Bataille’s theoretical method known as the Exquisite Corpse, Zero in affect creates a discursive ‘body’ for the current post-industrial information age. Similarly, in Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953) painter and collagist Robert Rauchenberg took the notion of identity, discourse and representation a step further, deleting the subject in his artistic inquiry entirely, revealing more informal considerations based on the absence and ambiguity of the author, concluding his thoughts by erasing a drawing by Willem De Kooning as an act of art in his own name, at once communicating the primary concerns of collage: intertextuality, appropriation, and juxtaposition.

Subscribing to historical collagist practices, notably the work of Dadaists such as Hana Hoch, Raoul Hausmann, and Kurt Schwitters, Zero confronts the medium of painting based on contemporary conventions such as schizophrenia, pastiche, anxiety and erasure. All under the guise(s) of imitation, artifice, and anonymity, Zero takes a cue from Marcel Duchamp’s conceptual art practices and Andy Warhol’s Pop Art wit, approaching painting on the same conceptual grounds as collage, depicting the everyday spectacle of human habituation in the urban sprawl of the modern city. Zero becomes a cipher, an indecipherable title containing no gender or name, the personification of collage: a cyborg. Borrowing from everyday media sources to construct detailed, photo-realistic compositions (trompe l’oeil), Zero presents the status quo of the Global Village as a bricolage, made-up of found objects (objet trouvé) and constructed bodies, using newspaper headlines, various street art elements, billboards, posters, album covers, fashion spreads, and print ads as pertinent social content.

Delivering layered facsimiles and masked captions from ground zero, Zero stumbles upon the defunct and deteriorated relationship between the original and the representation. Where humans once consumed media, it now consumes us, and Zero presents the remnants of this memory, pooled experiences faded and used, somehow tolerating the extraction of intelligible bits of information. Rather than being direct representations from some distant ‘original’ source or ‘authentic’ subject, Zero’s paintings are processed transcripts of lost and found representations, which have lost the agency of ‘origin’. The notions of memory and history are treated in an archaeological manner, mediated and weathered into the surfaces of the urban landscape, peeled back by Zero to reveal the remaining strata of our mediation, all too often hidden from us, or simply ignored and forgotten. “The informational function of the media today would thus be to help us forget, to serve as the very agents and mechanisms for our historical amnesia” (Jameson, 1999:20). Zero finds keepsakes from the fragmented landscape of the city – its histories and geographies incomplete – in order to piece together portraits of its cyborg citizenry, blip culture, raising relevant doubts about the Human Condition.

Saturated in the synthetic culture of the 80s, steeped in Punk and Indie Rock, Zero has a penchant for the appropriation of middle class consumer appetites. Forgetting and indoctrination being the staple of the day, the working class ideology of the Apartheid proletariat gave Zero special insights into the power of propaganda and marketing, and the social programming of the minority white population. In this sense, Zero’s paintings take advantage of the value of deception, equating perception with deception, perversion with reversion, at all times being unsympathetic towards any political agenda. Zero samples glitches and iterations from mediocrity, remixing scraps Xeroxed or stolen from popular culture, numbing as they stimulate, rendering the information age as bits and pieces, hyphens and splices, scratched and scrambled. If Pierneef were alive today, Zero’s portraits would be the landscapes he would paint.

This approach to the present day by way of the art language of the simulacrum, or of the pastiche of the stereotypical past, endows present reality and the openness of present history with the spell and distance of a glossy mirage. Yet this mesmerizing new aesthetic mode itself emerged as a elaborated symptom of the waning of our historicity, of our lived possibility of experiencing history in some active way. It cannot therefore be said to produce this strange occultation of the present by its own formal power, but rather merely to demonstrate, through these inner contradictions, the enormity of the situation in which we seem increasingly incapable of fashioning representations of our own current experience. 
                                                                                   Frederic Jameson (1993: 21)

When viewed from a distance each painting appears to be hyper-realistic visions pieced together from discarded or found media parts. When each of the many segments are appreciated for their individual surface qualities, ranging from topological interactions to hijacked typographical vectors and dirty grunge-inspired textures, they display abstract expressionist tendencies, marking a sea-change in the context of Modern painting. Simultaneously multiple and singular, Zero’s paintings dictate impossible exchanges between different surfaces in a continuous sedimentation of information.

Zero’s own ambiguous identity poses a similar question, where the authenticity of the author gives way to the representation of the brand; a sentiment relayed by Guy Debord (2004:12) when he states: “The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that was once directly lived has become mere representation”. With this simulated sense of Self Zero plays with the unsolicited aesthetics of the street, in an overwhelming image economy, a contrived society continually referencing itself, feeding off of itself, inviting one to consume. Zero’s paintings illustrate the sales agenda of the Global Village; so pervasive that it almost does not need the consumer anymore. The world is no longer about good or bad, black or white, ones and zeros; it is no longer binary, it is anarchic based on technologies that currently dictate the resolution of reality and the ‘deresolution’ of the body. Everything is transferred and transmitted under tragicomic circumstances, making room for the entropic madness of the machine aesthetic that Futurists such as Fillippo Marinetti envisaged being the culmination of mankind.

The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do... If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, there I am. There's nothing behind it. 
                                                                                                                           Andy Warhol

We are all Burroughs’ cut-ups, disposable, interchangeable, random. As passive consumers, compiled identities, and poster egos, most people are bored and nobody wants to change anything, shape it, form it, and translate it into a form of expression. It’s all about imitation, consumption and manipulation, and the only way to arrive at something relevant is to combine elements together, just as Zero does. This boredom is symptomatic of the lack of difference and Otherness in the world. Zero is the only relevant symbol, Zero’s cut-up images are a sign of the times, products of the system. Much like Gustav Courbet, Zero is a realist for the times, a traditionalist conveying the contemporary message of Zeitgeist in Babel, manifesting what it means to be human in the composite landscape of website hits and dots per inch, at all times leaving the debate open and playful.

Alongside contemporary artists such as Gajin Fujita, Takashi Murakami and Barry McGee, Zero draws attention to a society in a state of terminal identity, where the neurosis observed in the everyday becomes the norm. Marshall McLuhan referred to this neurosis as ‘narcosis’ (2001:45), which is an analogy used to describe our addiction to the media and our indifference towards it, linked to the idea that human beings and culture are paramount to a reproductive organ for the media and technology. Zero executes this narcosis through transient and ambiguous mergers of realism, naturalism and abstraction, somehow incorporating small pieces from just about every discursive structure in painting since the Renaissance. Silence and noise find common ground here, where the cosmetic fabrications of the media are expressed through hybrids of texture, colour, and pattern; chimeras that lead to continuing discussion on painting.

Micro Cluster Picnic progresses past Manichean binaries, in a post-hyperrealist realm that is inadvertent towards humanist or capitalist polemics and politics, differing from previous exhibitions, say for me (2008) and macro soda text hits (2009). As the world grows ever smaller, proximity being equal to promiscuity, Zero chooses anonymity over autonomy. Embodied and embedded, disassembled and reprogrammed, Zero’s paintings contribute more than just the sum of all parts, unfixing signifiers, stirring up turbulence, entangled in alienation and artifice to establish a clear-cut message. By piecing together counterfeit truths that can be bought over the counter, Zero makes the distinction between the authentic and inauthentic obsolete, perhaps exposing the only ‘truth’ left. History, identity, representation, culture, and the like, no longer teeter on the opposition between good and evil, or even tinker on the pitting of evil against ‘evil’, Zero simply makes such distinctions null and void.

Text Copyright © Shane de Lange 2011.
Image Copyright © Asha Zero 2011.


"Venerated Villain (Kenosi)", 2011

If there is a constant to chaos it is dualism; where two Manichean halves clash. The vying of the irrational against the rational makes Africa the perfect breeding ground for chaos, where conflict, war, violence, and poverty in the wake of decolonization, global capitalism, and the resurgence of pre-colonial tribalism simultaneously condemn and validate oppression. It is from this ‘tragic-state-of-affairs’ that corrupt and totalitarian powers contest for ownership over a multifaceted and layered geography. Within this paradigm small pockets across Africa are attempting to find recourse towards identifying themselves, in many ways reversing the voyeuristic gaze of the West, becoming voyeurs of the West and vanguards of their own culture, in the process finding rootedness; a story of difference, and the indifference that prevails to destroy it.

Frank Marshall is a photographer who dissects the question of representation in Africa by focusing on a special outcropping of Heavy Metal subculture in Botswana. He does so from a formal photographic stance and as a sub-political statement, constructing an image of the Renegade as a pretense to the avant-garde. Heavy Metal is a divergent subculture, and its quasi-nihilist tenets seem to have developed into an uprising in Sub-Saharan Africa, provoking those myths and stereotypes that sustain the borders of supposed social order, dummy-revolutions, and apparent power struggles; all under the guise of victimhood in the shadow of the post-colony. What the so-called ‘Batswana’ Heavy Metal community is nurturing in Botswana is merely one of many encouraging microcosms of change sprouting all across Africa. The diverse manner in which this change is happening exhibits how the continent is calibrating itself to the demands of the Present and the obligations of the Past. With the Batswana, Marshall has taken it upon himself to document this process unfolding, one individual Motswana at a time (‘Motswana’ being the singular to the plural ‘Batswana’).

Bound by the Moon, 2011

Marshall tentatively situates himself as a mediator chronicling the assimilation of Heavy Metal by a group of Batswana rebels creating an emergent rootedness in a geography where tradition, politics, and tribalism create sensitive grounds for expression. These Renegades are almost thespian in their unconscious re-reading of post-colonial hauteur. This ‘performative’ aspect is a dominant theme in Marshall’s photographs; where the Machiavellian world of Heavy Metal meets the Manichean world of Colonialism, uniquely displayed in each individual Motswana portrait.

Such sub-cultural insurgences supply alternative lifestyles that veer from long-debated post-colonial concerns that either views subculture as a luxury of the First World or the corruption of the Third World. But such insurrections are anomalies attempting to deal with the challenges of Modernity, and the Batswana community does so through pure idiosyncratic rage in keeping with the idiom of Heavy Metal.

"Death", 2011

Increasingly, these subversive apolitical, non-traditional caucuses establish themselves unobstructed by the moral and political predicaments created by post-liberation, often corrupt leaderships in underdeveloped democracies. Although many subcultures exist in seemingly developed African states such as South Africa, this particular fraternity in Botswana is provoking a unique polarity-shift between the West and its perceived Other, allowing for a greater sense of belonging and fellowship amongst the Batswana Heavy Metal community, geared towards a confrontation with the persuasions and dysfunctions of Globalization and Capitalism. The Batswana take advantage of the spectacle cherished in Heavy Metal lore, parodying the larger Spectacle created by the ‘powers-that-be’, turning the notion of ‘Otherness’ on its head. The Batswana become voyeurs of the old oppressor; the West becomes the fetish, a novelty in light of the outsider status of Heavy Metal in Botswana.

Marshall’s portraits of the Batswana pose important anthropological questions about the nature of cultural effigy, specifically relating to pop culture, consumerism, and the topology of post-decolonial machinations. The stigma surrounding Marshall’s Renegades in their own local community also reveals a greater cultural chimera: they are the oppressed, steeped in the tactics of the oppressor, conveying this fact through skulls, scars, and chains that ironically put them on the fringe of their own society. Despite this, the Renegades keep with Heavy Metal’s primary archetype, envisaging a ‘new’ kind of African male: damaged yet intimidating, at the end of it all, with nothing to lose, subverting the system with his anger and indignation. 

"Morgue Boss (Rock Phex)", 2011
In terms of demographics, Heavy Metal has historically been associated with those of Caucasian, male, patriarchal, Christian (by proxy anti-), and Eurocentric persuasions. The dissimilarity is obvious, but the one key similarity here is that ‘Metalheads’ stem from the lower working class, giving insight into the socio-economic strata of each Motswana, whom relates to the blue-collar working-class roots of Metal, its origins in Rock and Roll during the 1950s, and its connotations to the Hell’s Angels, all working against the system to find an original identity. This influence can be traced even further back to the machismo of the Wild West era. Africa being the ‘new’ Wild West, the Renegades parade themselves in leather boots, pants and jackets, jeans, studs, and homemade belts made from bullet shells; a material articulation of rebellion to say the least.

In this way, the Batswana have annexed unclaimed cultural territory, seizing a sense of authenticity and ownership, in turn upending the order of ‘Otherness’ by ‘colonizing’ a Western subculture. In this context, visibility equals worth, where music is a material currency, and performance is an unmasking agent revealing the West as a perpetrator of inauthenticity. To ‘colonize’, based on the humanist pedestal of Greco-Roman ethics, leading into Christian moralism, Eurocentric narcissism, ending in Modernist utopianism is negated by the primal, pagan, pre-Hellenistic tribalism, tolerating the Batswana to embrace a ‘cult of Dionysius’ as it were; representing the marginal folklore of Heavy Metal regardless of ethnicity, simply because it speaks the language of tragedy. 

"Dead Demon Rider I", 2011

Tragedy is an intrinsic art form based on human suffering, offering pleasure to its spectators. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers mainly to the Ancient Greek dramatic traditions that play a pivotal role in the determinism of Western civilization, and by proxy Colonialism. Marshall accentuates this sense of tragedy by acquiring theatrical elements through Spectacle, temporality, and iconicity, illustrating the evolutionary strides in the post-colonial mindset from rebels, to revolutionaries, to Renegades. In this way, Marshall actively mythologizes the Batswana, teetering on the fringe of fantasy and reality, bearing witness to the manner in which Heavy Metal is adopted and adapted in Botswana.

The historical significance of Marshall’s portraits is further emphasized by formal considerations of tone, color, and one-point perspective, using ambient picture planes, differentiated focusing and a distorted depth of field. His formal engagement with the street, and the African urban environment in particular, turns his portraits of Motswana individuals into ‘visions’, achieving a vivid painterly effect outside the confines of the artist’s studio. In this light, it seems ironic that Marshall’s cult-like visions can only be accessed through the tragic social rites of the gallery, occultist in its purist form. Marshall’s photographs are vocal about depicting a community marginalized by society, blurring the boundaries between liberty and fraternity. Marshall’s Renegade’s have found a semblance of an answer by co-opting Heavy Metal, finding a substitute for the lack of answers produced by the Post-colonial enquiry, permitting them to embrace anything that popular culture finds unacceptable, proving the manner in which Africa is calibrating itself to an increasingly homogenized world. 

"Loyal to None", 2011

Text Copyright © Shane de Lange 2011. 
Image Copyright © Frank Marshall 2011.