Hiddingh Hall, UCT, 8 – 21 December 2010.
Daddy Land by Chad Rossouw
I remember having a braai at my father’s house when I was a laaitjie. He had a guest over, a neighbour. As they had both been in the army, and the company was all men and sons, the conversation naturally turned to military experiences. The neighbour spoke of his experiences on the border (my father hadn’t seen active service). It has stuck in my mind, perhaps because it was my first experience of male bonding, or because I felt included at a time when my father’s house and my mother’s house weren’t the same place. Either way, there was a sense of pleasure in meat and conversation, army experiences and neighbourliness.
Years later, I realized that the Border War wasn’t a nice war, that the group Koevoet that he served with was not neighbourly, and that driving around with a black man strapped to the grill of your Casspir is not a story but an atrocity.
There’s a peculiar dislocation between my nostalgic recollection of a time of masculine bonhomie and my own experiences of South Africa. It is somewhere in this sense of dislocation that I would locate David Brits’ Vaderland. While David’s work never veers into personal narrative territory, there’s a clear sense of nostalgia in his material, faded photographs and yellowed paper. But this longing (or even sensual pleasure) for the old is always tempered. There’s an element that jars, something is displaced or juxtaposed which skews the easy feeling. In a series of collages on vintage paper, drawings of South African soldiers are half obscured by torn images from natural history collections. A man’s legs hang out from underneath a bird. While at first this is a visually strange combination, the intersection between the military’s defence of the land and the myth of an Arcadian land of nature to be categorized and admired has its own logic. Both images are ideological, the army as the visible might that upholds the system, while the impulse to collect natural history implies a sense of ownership of the land. This connection doesn’t allow either image to settle.
A second series of drawings adds another complex element. On a similar collection of pages from a natural history book, crude handwriting delineates bald statements that David associates with the Apartheid army (“fokken moffie,” “bosbefok,” etc). There’s a similar juxtaposition to the bird series, but the act of writing is both imaginative and performative. David has to imagine the mind of a soldier from a different generation. In writing it down, he has to enact the character. The crooked handwriting implies an anger which doesn’t relate to David. He wasn’t there, he’s not this person. He is performing a gender role which is affirmative, replicating our fathers’ masculinity, but also critical and ironic, in its need to take on a performed, imagined and essentially distanced form.
From Border War photos nicked from Facebook, to helmets gushing black cloth this complex interaction between gender, nostalgia, criticality and politics plays itself out within this show. But at its heart, it’s Luke and Vader, the big theme of masculine production: the classic daddy issue, both wanting and rejecting the love of a father.