It is not every day that you get an apartheid beneficiary coming out to admit that they benefited from apartheid…without expecting to be thanked or celebrated for the gesture. Well Christiaan Diedericks does exactly that. White privilege hardly gets more archetypical than a middle aged white Afrikaner male. On account of its particularly political import, Diedericks latest exhibition, “In search of a new King” which opened on 9 May 2019, can perhaps be better or might I say, fully appreciated when accompanied by some consideration of the artist’s racial as well as social identity.
Not because the work is not artistically brilliant, it is. It is undoubtedly of a very high artistic standard and in every way worthy of Diedericks’ considerable talent and artistic stature. Beyond being aesthetically pleasing I found the exhibition’s greatest value to be in the honest and shameless manner in which it portrays the artist’s rather personal confrontation with his own identity, his past, present and possibly his future.
Guilt is a very central theme in this body of work.Guilt for benefitting from the privileges that Diedericks’ whiteness has earned him and many of his race, privileges which for the longest time were founded on black suffering and collective dehuminisation.
Perhaps the one piece which best represents this prominent sense of guilt is one titled Burden, which I have intentionally decided not to post (think of it as me giving you something to look forward to seeing when you actually pop in at the gallery), which is a piece centred around the image of a supine white male, presumably one Christiaan Diedericks, visibly weighed down by condemnatory words about his racial and social identity as well as the privilege that attaches thereto.
To his left, there is a representation of his mother, a gentle and healing presence in his life and whose liberal views provide a much welcome counterinfluence to his father’s patent racism. The word ‘burden’ is boldly spray painted over the beautiful and unimposing representation of the gentle mother and son relationship, eclipsing and aggressively taking visual prominence.
On Burden, Diedericks says “it is time to sorry-sorry for the past, sorry for intolerance and racism, sorry for colonialism, imperialism, sexism and misogyny, sorry for wielding power over those less fortunate or less strong.” Such honest, unambiguous and introspective self-reckoning may not be the worst place to start the long and overdue journey towards leaving down the burden.
In search of a new King is made up of several other honest and thought-provoking pieces such as Penitence, Weight and Ferryman, to name a few. The interpretation and appreciation of art are by nature highly subjective processes, so perhaps the best thing for one to do would be to stop by The
Melrose Gallery for a proper interrogation of this amazing offering from one of South Africa’s most distinguished visual artists.