• Thumbnail for Untitled, 2008
    October 9th, 2012 | 5 images

    Untitled, 2008

    Fabric, leather, metal, plastic, rope.
    Installation dimensions variable.
    Collection: SABC

    2008: Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

  • Thumbnail for
    October 4th, 2012 | 9 images

    "Reaching New Frontiers", 2008

    Mixed media.
    200 x 400 x 400 cm

    2008: University of Johannesburg Art Gallery
    2009: KZNSA Gallery, Durban

    With this installation Hentie van der Merwe won the Sasol Wax Art Award. The installation was commissioned and produced specifically for the competition exhibition, sponsored by Sasol, with wax as its theme.

    In the installation wax as a substance, both in its natural and synthetic form, is referenced through alluding to the beehive in the structure of the cell, as well as through the dizzying repetition of the Sasol logo on the inside walls of the cell (through commerce the Sasol logo has become almost synonymous with the substance of wax). The block of stacked wax slabs that forms part of the installation references the status of wax as commodity, and thus as an agent for the circulation of labour and capital. In a video sequence that forms part of the installation a man, dressed in a business suit, is seen reciting from Virgil’s Georgics IV (concerning the lives of the bees) and behind him the Sasol slogan “Reaching New Frontiers”.
    “The cell-like shape of the installation invokes other metaphorical connotations, such as the work station, or partitioned cubicle that comprises much of the work space of employees in corporations. In addition, almost in spite of connotations of confinement, the cell invokes the solitude of monastic contemplation. Van der Merwe’s work empowers us to contemplate the relationship between art and industry and between artist and industrialist by providing us with the critical tools to do so physically, while circling the cell, or the cube, and metaphysically.”
    - Wilhelm van Rensburg

  • Thumbnail for DM 24.02.2006 - 23.02.2007, 2007
    October 9th, 2012 | 3 images

    DM 24.02.2006 - 23.02.2007, 2007

    Video-sequence displayed on a television-screen.
    Dimensions variable.

    2007: Spier Contemporary Exhibition, Africa Centre and Cape and Johannesburg Art Gallery

    In February 2006 I started two ongoing daily activities that would deliberately be undertaken separately from each other. Each day I buy a copy of a daily newspaper from the city in which I find myself. In Antwerp it is De Morgen, from which the work derived its title, and from whose front pages most photographs for the current excerpt were taken. The second activity involves noting down my daily personal experiences and actions in a diary entry of each day (deliberately without having seen the image on the front page of that day’s edition of the newspaper). The final action involves combining the diary entry with the largest photograph on the front page of that day’s newspaper edition.

  • Thumbnail for Untitled, 2003
    October 4th, 2012 | 1 image

    Untitled, 2003

    Watercolor on paper, fabric.
    Installation dimensions variable.

    2003: Galerie Gabriele Rivet, Cologne, Tim van Laere Gallery, Antwerp, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

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    October 4th, 2012 | 14 images

    "United Colors", 2002

    Silver-gelatin prints on resin-coated paper framed in wooden frames behind glass, military ribbons, book, printed and bound.
    Installation dimensions variable.
    Installation destroyed in a fire.

    2002: BIG TORINO 2002, 2nd International Biennial of Young Art, Turin.

    With this installation the artist won the BIG TORINO 2002 Prize.

    The installation United Colors combines a line of beautifully coloured ribbons - which are, in fact, commemorative war-ribbons - with12 black-and-white Benetton-like portraits, and a book with text about the history of the ribbons. Says Van der Merwe, “I would like to draw the viewer’s critical attention to questions relating to a world history of violence, domination and exploitation and that of a current emerging ‘global economy’. Furthermore, the kind of images produced by the mass media and advertising in promoting it’s products to a ‘global market’. Also, the kind of identities produced and created by such an industry. I see myself as part of a younger generation of people faced with such questions and having to negotiate between a history fraught with political struggle, violence and injustices and thinking about the kind of identities and morals we would, and could, assume in this particular moment.”

  • Thumbnail for Untitled (military ribbons), 2001
    October 4th, 2012 | 1 image

    Untitled (military ribbons), 2001

    Military ribbons (official ribbons worldwide), mounted on card-board.
    Installation dimensions variable.
    Collection: private

    2001: Galerie Gabriele Rivet, Cologne

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    October 4th, 2012 | 8 images

    "And Our Fathers that Begat Us", 2000

    Color photographs on resin-coated paper, silver-gelatin prints on fibre-based paper, modified battery-powered torches.
    Installation dimensions variable.

    2000: FNB Vita Art Prize Exhibition, Sandton Civic Gallery, Johannesburg.
    2001: Dis/location – images and identity South Africa, curated by Daniela Tilkin for Fotoespaña 2001, International Photography Festival, Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid & Sala Rekalde, Bilbao.

    The installation was commissioned and produced for the 2000 FNB Vita Art Award.

    I have always had a fascination for archives. This started during my childhood while spending hours looking through boxes containing small black-and-white photographs which I discovered in our family home (often by means of a torchlight in dark storing spaces). I guess it was the air of nostalgia, innocence and sentimentality they exude that initially drew me to these tactile images, often crumpled and stained due to numerous handling and the photographic fixer turning yellow. Furthermore, the shorthand notes scribbled on the back of each, such as ‘Drakensberg 1951’ or ‘Limpopo River Dec 1969’. I would often wonder who was the person taking the picture and for what purpose? What is the ‘meaning’ or narrative about the past that these object seem to contain? Or, alternatively, was it up to me to detect the clues, ‘join the dots’ (so to speak) and construct such meanings about the past for myself?
    Coming from a land-owning farming family, the symbol of the landscape played an important role in the way I came to understand the world around me. It was a symbolic space signifying security and entitlement for white middle-class families (like my own) during Apartheid South Africa, since black people didn’t own any land then. On the other hand, being a boy-child, I was to identify with the landscape as a symbol of patriarchal heritage – only male children inherit family land in my (white Afrikaner) culture. In this way the landscape came to signify a particular type of masculinity and a sense of lineage with which I was expected to identify. The landscape became something synonymous with the word ‘father’.
    Archives are like father figures in the way that they assume a certain kind of authority and create expectations regarding racial, sexual and political identities.
    This installation consists of photographs from a number of different archives, starting with that of my father, particularly the landscapes he photographed (in colour) during his travels around South Africa as a young man in the 1960’s. Combined with these are black-and-white photographs from various sources: my dad’s photo albums, my own archive of photographs I took over the years, as well as those from public archives such as the Namibia National Photo Archives, and the Hugh McFarlane archive housed at the Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of the Witwatersrand.
    Through the juxtaposition of different archival photographs with that of my own I aim to open up the possibility of alternative readings of narratives supposedly contained within each of these archives. As Rory Bester writes: “As much as archives are about remembering, they are also about forgetting. The material manifestation of one kind of memory is often collected, ordered and preserved at the expense of another kind of memory.” Therefore, to explore the absences and silences that exist in spite of archival memory, and in so doing, to question and neutralize the authority of the archive.
    Exploring archives is uncomfortable, but at the same time liberating. Re-organizing the archive is a kind of therapy for me.

  • Thumbnail for Portraits From a Grid, 1998
    October 4th, 2012 | 20 images

    Portraits From a Grid, 1998

    Ink-jet prints on vinyl, stitching, brass ringlets.
    Each panel measuring 140 x 60 cm.
    Collection: Wits University

    1999: Aids Worlds: Between Resignation and Hope, curated by Frank Wagner (Berlin), 12th International Aids/HIV Conference, Centre d’Art Contemporain and Dialogai, Geneva
    2006: Figuring Faith: Images of Belief in Africa, curated by Fiona Rankin-Smith, Standard Bank Art Galleries, Johannesburg

    I produced the work entitled Portraits From a Grid for an exhibition called AIDS Worlds, between resignation and hope curated for the 13th International HIV/AIDS Conference in Geneva in 1998. At that time in South Africa, which is now more than ten years ago, the subject of HIV/AIDS was still formulated within public discourse in ways that were stigmatizing and derogatory. As a result of this persons with HIV and those suffering from AIDS-related illnesses felt themselves silenced and on the margins of society. For my contribution to the exhibition I wanted to create a visual document about the experiences of such people at that moment in South African history in the hope that in future it will be different. I found a number of people who were willing to be interviewed regarding their experiences living with HIV. These interviews I transcribed and I used the transcribed text in combination with excerpts taken from reports on HIV/AIDS in local newspapers. Since most people I interviewed couldn’t afford to have their identity made known in the context of the installation, which prevented me from using an image of them as part of the work, I asked each person to give me an object that is representative of them as persons or the way in which they live their lives with HIV. The objects people presented me with ranged from precious objects such as fluffy toys and ornaments to a rubber dildo from someone who used it for the purpose of safe-sex education in prisons. Since I couldn’t use the names of the people I interviewed either I devised a code alluding to the gender, age and sexual orientation of the person I interviewed as well as the date and time of the interview. These were stenciled across the photographs of objects on the panels.
    A year after the exhibition in Geneva I presented the work in South Africa. Before installing the work I called each person I interviewed during the making of the work. A number of them had by then passed away1, which made me realize that the work was becoming a memorial to those nineteen people I interviewed in producing the work, apart from being a testimony to the injustices done to them by society towards the end of their lives.
    In 2008 the work was destroyed and I was asked to remake it. This afforded me the opportunity to revisit the way the installation was conceptualized and executed and I decided to make some changes, mainly in the way the panels are produced. In the current version of the installation each panel is printed on vinyl2 and made into a banner with brass ringlets in each corner, since I wanted the panels to have associations with acts of protest and mourning in public. The process of digital printing on vinyl allowed me to introduce color in the panels, which I did. Each of the codes printed across the photographs of objects are printed in various bright colors, while the text on each panel that was taken from local newspaper reports on HIV/AIDS is in red.
    - September 2011

  • Thumbnail for Untitled, 1997
    October 4th, 2012 | 4 images

    Untitled, 1997

    Silver-gelatin prints on resin-coated paper (archival photographs), glass, plexiglass, vinyl lettering, florescent lights, wood.
    Installation dimensions variable.

    1997: Generator Art Space, Africus Institute for Contemporary Art, Johannesburg
    1998: Alborough, Alexander, Nel, Lipson, Van Der Merwe, Wilson, curated by Julia Charlton and Natasha Fuller, Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of The Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
    1999: Lines of Sight, Contemporary South African Photography, curated by Zwelethu Mthethwa, South African National Gallery, Cape Town
    2000: Translation/Seduction/Displacement, curated by Lauri Firstenberg and John Peffer, White Box Gallery, New York

    The role of archives in collecting, ordering and preserving historical material, as well as the perspective that each of these three practices brings to the understanding of historical material, is often overlooked in the production and maintenance of narratives about the past. Recently a number of contemporary South African artists have produced works that question the role that archives play in creating particular kinds of historical narratives. As much as archives are about remembering, they are also about forgetting. The material manifestation of one kind of memory is often collected, ordered and preserved at the expense of another kind of memory. Critically engaging the innocence and sentimentality of archival memory, as well as the absence and silences that exist in spite of archival memory, has seen artists increasingly use historical photography and film to question the nature of race, gender and sexuality.
    Hentie van der Merwe is one such artist whose work has been profoundly influenced by archival practices and, more specifically, the impact that archives have had on the construction of personal and political identity. The sensibility that Van der Merwe brings to archives is driven by the extent to which his identity is not represented in archives. Through the production of installation-based works, Van der Merwe questions and neutralizes the authority of the archive by searching for the discrepancies, the omissions that keeps the status quo unchallenged. “Exploring archives is uncomfortable but at the same time it can be quite liberating,” says Van der Merwe. “It’s like scratching around until it bleeds and then having to wait for the wound to heal. It’s therapeutic to recontextualize archival material.”
    Van der Merwe’s first major exploration of archival practices was the result of coming across a suitcase of old photographs belonging to Hugh McFarlane, an amateur photographer from Pretoria. When McFarlane died in the early 1980’s his photographs were salvaged from the destructive intentions of relatives bent on destroying his collection of gay pornography (along with a series of commissioned anthropometric studies of naked white men recruited for service during WW II). Having been salvaged from this attempt at ‘silencing’ an archive, McFarlane’s photographs trekked South Africa’s gay community as a rootless, mobile archive. It was McFarlane’s collection of anthropometric photographs, each shot against a grid-like background, that Van der Merwe stumbled across and used as the basis for a series of installations at Johannesburg’s Generator Art Space in 1997. Van der Merwe’s installations were a meditation upon the grid as a mechanism that not only maps social spaces and identities, but also controls the parameters of deviancy, normality and supremacy. “A lot of my work is a rebellion against the grid in order to create a space for my own desires and fantasies,” he says.
    The exhibition at the Generator Art Space included a darkened, diorama-like room, where the walls were wallpapered with Hugh McFarlane’s front, back and side views of the naked recruits. A glass screen prevented physical entry into the room, transforming viewing from the possibility of intimate scrutiny to an obligatory, voyeuristic surveillance of the physical shapes of warriors ready for war. This display of McFarlane’s photographs challenged the unquestioned place of white male gaze, undressing it in a repetitive display of nakedness. Similarly, a series of blow-ups of the faces of the subjects in McFarlane’s photographs were encased behind glass and marked with serial numbers. These body parts, decapitated by cropping, were dislocated in space, differentiated only by morphology and numerical taxonomy. Hard florescent lighting stripped the men of any ‘shadow’ behind which to hide. This aesthetic of austere, clinical formalism underpinned the ‘scientism’ of these visual procedures and highlighted the latent violence implicit in these kinds of representation.
    Van der Merwe grew up with a history that was driven by masculinity and patriarchy. The archive often authorizes particular notions of masculinity and patriarchy and it is this identity politics of the archive that underpins much of van der Merwe’s work. “Archives are like father-figures,” says van der Merwe, “in the way that they assume a kind of authority.” As with the grid-like structures in Hugh McFarlane’s photographs that establish a matrix of types of conformity, so too does the archive create expectations about masculinity. In being explorations of social perceptions about masculinity, war and the archive, van der Merwe’s work often inverts traditional self-other dichotomies and offers important answers to the question of a political art in post-Apartheid South Africa.
    -Rory Bester, 2000

  • Thumbnail for
    October 13th, 2012 | 6 images

    "These feelings of guilt are not natural to the human being.", 1994

    Electrical lights, display-mannequin parts, paint, medical gauze and toweling, embroidery, inkjet prints on plexiglass and plastic, brass ringlets.
    Installation dimensions variable.

    1994: Wits University Fine Arts Department.

    My work is the result of the outrage and frustration engendered by prejudice and social injustice in a time when every 30 seconds a human life is lost to Aids. Although I mourn the deaths of the thousands already lost to the epidemic, I will nevertheless go on to celebrate the love, friendship, and sex that happens between men as one of the most beautiful things in life. I will not allow myself to indulge in the views of pathetic moralists who claim the epidemic to be some kind of divine retribution as a result of queer promiscuity, which can only lead to a sorry state, but rather will I celebrate and enjoy those moments with friends and lovers that make life worth living.
    In my work there is a search for a redefinition and re-evaluation of my own perception of matters such as life, death, sex, aging, the body and spirituality. I think that the Aids epidemic is one of the main concerns for a need to think and live life differently. Aids then becomes, not the unfortunate and fatal disease that is threatening human existence, but part of our postmodern condition which requires a whole new mindset and the way we perceive time and relate to each other as human beings.
    - Johannesburg, September 1995