A recent visit to the Smithsonian’s Museum of African Art introduced us to the work of South African photographer Roger Ballen. Ballen combines rendered line drawings and black-and-white photography into visual still lives which often surprise and shock. One series titled “The Asylum” features collages of strange figures, snakes, skins, and wire hangers that present awkward relationships and absurd complexities .
The exhibit ends with a showing of the video I Fink U Freeky, a 2012 collaboration between Ballen and the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for “The Answer.” ) It brings to mind the work of Diane Arbus, Joel Peter Witkin, and John Waters in its unabashed appropriation of trashy and bizarre images to question social and political mores and taboos. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is something haunting and strangely beautiful in Die Antwoord’s dance moves and raw lyrics. We commend the museum for showing this uncensored piece which some visitors will find offensive, but that will introduce others to a vigorous counterculture movement in a country with one of Africa’s most complex histories. Here’s the video link.