Hentie van der Merwe lives and works in Darling, Western Cape. He was born in Windhoek, Namibia and studied at the University of the Witwatersrand where he obtained both his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Fine Arts. Between 2000 and 2002 he attended the Higher Institute for Fine Arts (HISK) in Antwerp and in 2001 the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, USA. He has had a number of solo exhibitions in both South Africa and Europe (Tim van Laere Gallery, Antwerp, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town and Galerie Gabriele Rivet, Cologne). He has also taken part in numerous group exhibitions both in South Africa and internationally, some of which were curated by acclaimed international curators such as Jan Hoet (My Private Heroes, MARTa Herford, Germany, 2005) and Okwui Enwezor (Snap Judgements: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography, International Center of Photography, New York, 2006). In 2002 he won the prize for best visual artist at the BIG Torino 2002 International Biennale of Young Art curated by Michelangelo Pistoletto and in 2008 the Sasol Wax Art Award in South Africa.
As Tracy Murinik writes: “At the core of much of Hentie van der Merwe’s work is the body: its power, vulnerability, sexuality, objectification; its memory and its concealment; its capacity for violence or intimacy; the body as it exists or is represented publicly and privately, symbolically and commercially. And central to his process is a rummaging through archives from which he roots out details: reflections on predominantly the masculine body, followed by the recontextualisation of that which is uncovered. Van der Merwe’s work also engages a biographical perspective: exploring his own relationship to his historical context, having grown up in an Afrikaans family in then South West Africa, and the perceptions of (assumed/prescribed) masculinity that accompanied that cultural environment.”
In his work there is an ongoing interest in the body, particularly the male body, in relation to the archive. The archive as that which defines the body, both as a political and sexual being. The archive then becomes the site where these terms by which the body gets defined are investigated, challenged, interrogated – not in order to escape these terms, but to redefine them - in the hope of opening up the possibilities for a different way of experiencing emotions and feelings, both public and private.
In 2014 Hentie started the handcrafted toffee brand Darling Sweet - www.darlingsweet.co.za - together with his partner Frits van Ryneveld as a means of creating jobs in the local Darling community. The company currently employs 20 full-time members of staff, including Frits, who is the General Manager, and Hentie working as product developer.