Die Antwoord, Jane Alexander and a Culture of Forgetting

So Die Antwoord’s new music video has been pulled due to copyright issues from Jane Alexander, re. the appropriation of her Butcher Boys.  Of course the general response to this is that copyright is really last century anyway, political correctness is really 2000-and-late and Alexander should just chill out (I mean it’s not like she invented people with horns right?).

These sentiments are easy. So is liking Die Antwoord.

I haven’t had time to really formulate an argument about this yet (though I will over the week), but what really strikes me about this whole issue is that South Africa is in a swift and perhaps irreversible process of forgetting. Hey, Apartheid JUST HAPPENED. Put down your IPAD’s, stop thinking about your cutesy fonts and your First World Problem memes and think about whether we (and who is WE anyway, hipster artschool white kids. Hey, I don’t even go there anymore) have the right to be all postmodernly pastiching this iconic image of Apartheid oppression. And sending this (mis)imagining out into the world.

Jane Alexander’s Butcher Boys is a pivotal work in the history of resistance art and of Apartheid – indeed THE ‘seminal’ (I hate this word, but am in a rush, so I apologise) anti-government work to come out of the Apartheid era. The work’s importance relates to this moment, this protest and as such holds considerable cultural, historical and political capital. This is not a Banksy photo-printed on canvas we’re talking about, it’s the fucking Butcher Boys.

Die Antwoord exist only through (Others’) cultural and artistic sampling and (mis)representation – sure, this is what makes them good, if they are. Sure, ‘originality’ is no longer a valid way of judging any kind of production, and in the end I am not even sure that Alexander is in the right here, I tend to side against the author in these kind of arguments. (That said ,one can  empathise with her concerns that audiences will assume her collusion in this use of her work: all of Die Antwoord’s music videos look like Roger Ballen photographs, but that’s through collaboration, hence this borrowing of another South African artist may well be assumed to be with her permission.)

What I’m more interested in, though, is not Alexander trying to control her authorial rights, but what I read more as her desperate attempt to try and retain some meaning, some memory, some history within the South African contemporary popular cultural landscape.

I’m also interested in asking why Waddy (Sorry ‘Ninja’) and Yolandi want to place themselves in the position of white Apartheid oppressors. It’s a pretty big deal.

Below I’ve posted another example – an image that went viral around youth day last year, next to the Hector Pieterson June 16 image it ‘parodies’. Sure, this is a far mores obvious example of the forgetting I am talking about (LOL) than Die Antwoord’s pastiche, but I would argue that they are both  symptoms of the same sickness, of not wanting to remember, not caring, moving past too quickly, a terminal culture of forgetting.

About Linda Stupart

Linda Stupart is an artist, writer and educator from Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Art Practice at Goldsmiths College engaged in issues of objectification. http://www.lindastupart.com/

75 comments

  1. Bad history is not worth remembering. The same way all Germans would like to avoid being reminded of Nazi and World War II, most South Africans would be quite happy to forget all about Apartheid.

    It’s kind of a moveon.org thing.

    • In response to ‘Bad history is not worth remembering’, I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, but I think it’s fairly clear that this absolutely is not the case. Germans may want to forget about Nazism, but that doesn’t mean they SHOULD. In South Africa, forgetting bad history is also ignoring the present; it’s not as though Apartheid doesn’t still exist (how many white people do you know living in townships, and how many black South Africans are there at art school?). Anyway, hopefully not enough people share this view for it to be worth commenting on further. That said, I have arguments with Goldsmiths students about, for example, the use of the swastika and whether that’s ok (me, it isn’t. Them, it is) so I guess there IS a lot to say about this. But, later.

      • Robert

        Apartheid still exists? You are blinkered and shortsighted to call that apartheid. Is it apartheid when you find Korean occupied areas with no black people in it? Is Chinatown in Witbank apartheid? Is it apartheid when you have white Afrikaans farmers not mixing with English white farmers like in the Klserie? No, you want to see apartheid. And by the way, the 3 private schools I have been to all had more than 50% black people in them, all of them were English though.

        Poverty has got nothing to do with race, age language or gender, but everywhere people see poverty they blame apartheid, like you did without even thinking(township = poor, art school = rich). Think before you post, this country needs people to stop complaining and work together.

        /rant

      • anon

        @Robert

        “Poverty has got nothing to do with race, age language or gender, but everywhere people see poverty they blame apartheid”

        “,,,the 3 private schools I have been to…”

        6/10 troll. Nice try.

      • Robert

        @ anon

        Once again a good showing of idiocy on the net, your just proving my point.
        Not even one argument, just an assumption. Troll? Do you know my history? If you do, please
        inform the rest of us. Your ignorance is keeping you from making a decent argument. Stop, read my post again and please give a meaningful response, you can.

    • RK

      “The same way all Germans would like to avoid being reminded of Nazi and World War II, most South Africans would be quite happy to forget all about Apartheid.”

      1. Most non-Jewish Germans for decades felt plagued by guilt over that era and for that reason would not have been liked to be reminded of the Nazis and World War II; almost all Jews of the region and internationally would baulk at the idea of forgetting about Nazi Germany and World War II.

      2. If you are going to draw that analogy, I believe you’d need to qualify “most South Africans” quite heavily.

  2. Elan Gamaker

    Excellent blog Linda. Die Antwoord for me represent everything that is wrong with what one could call ‘post-Malema’ discourse. Of course we’re all postmodern and pastiche is the new originality, blah blah, but every time I see Die Antwoord fraudulently co-opt aspects of culture in the name of ‘freshness’ or (worse) empty provocation, I’m reminded of seeing Wadi and Yolanda leaving the Virgin gym at Wembley Square to go buy an organic seed loaf downstairs at Knead. Whether or not they should have respect for their past (not to mention their privilege) is open to debate, but whether or not what they produce is of any value isn’t. I know this from the foreign response to Die Antwoord, and the kind of people who (often naively) adore it. They do so because it satisfies the vacuous neutrality of the consumer, an impulse that has filled the void left by the lack of struggle and governance in SA. How ironic that their name implies an answer when they seem to have forgotten the question.

  3. Dan

    Can I ask a question before I get into this – how are Ninja and Yolandi placing themselves in the position of white Apartheid oppressors like you mentioned?

    Secondly a small correcting – it was the Ten$ion album trailer which was pulled not the music video… two different (although related) pieces of work.

    • Thanks for the correction, you’re right. The logic behind that (fairly poorly formed) sentence) is that in dressing up as the Butcher Boys figures who are canonically accepted to represent Apartheid Oppression/oppressor/horror, they (Die Antwoord) are donning this guise themselves. I’m wondering why. In fact I have not seen this video and am open to the idea that the answers (so to speak) to this why – a representation of guilt, acknowledgment of privilege, an ironic nod to their own not-from-Mitchell’s-Plein whiteness, the prevalence of Apartheid in South Africa currently, and of violence etc. – could even prove interesting.

      • DallasSchneider

        Interesting how you, without asking “the artist” what their intention was, criticize their work. Do you believe that Jane Alexander’s work would have been understood without further explanation? Maybe before you go on about how they have perverted her work, ask what the artistic value of the piece could be. Also, criticizing something when you “have not seen this video” yet is a bit ignorant isn’t it?

  4. Jacky Lloyd

    Well put [ even in a hurry ]- the issue of forgetting is important , but your point about them identifying themselves as white Apartheid oppressors is the more interesting and contentious argument – wonder what they’ll say to that ?

    • Jack, thank you and I think my response to Dan, above, addresses your point. Just to be clear, what I was saying, albeit unclearly it seems, is that Die Antwoord were identifying THEMSELVES as Apartheid oppressors through their appropriation of the image of the Butcher Boys. Perhaps this is a valid strategy, I’m not sure. I would definitely like to see the reasoning behind it

      Also, I lived in the same trendy white suburb as Waddy etc. I am certainly in no position to criticize this position as somehow intrinsically fascistic, or, if I was going to, I would think a lot harder about it.

  5. anon

    NOTE: THERE IS A 2 LINE SUMMARY OF ALL THE STUPID BULLSHIT I HAVE WRITTEN BELOW AT THE END.

    It is hard to argue that the Die Antwoord rip/homage/flagrant IP theft is symptomatic of a “culture of forgetting” given that it is hard to pin down what forgetting/apathy means and the fact that the culprits tend known to have unpredictable motives.

    This is not to say that forgetfulness and apathy aren’t increasingly prevalent (I remain agnostic on that point). It’s just difficult to pin down cultural trends as symptomatic of any behaviour in this context, given that the extent to which we forget about the past has to be appraised relative to some time trend and some natural tendency to focus on the temporally proximate. To clarify, I don’t think it’s particularly useful to think about things in these terms because it is hard to quantify how much South Africans (across cultural strata) focus on the past.

    It is also difficult to assert some normative value as to how *much* we *should* think about it. That said, I agree that being cognisant of our history is important from a social policy perspective because of obvious inter generational redistribution and justice issues (if that’s what you were implying was important about remembering Apartheid). I will assume that you mean we have deviated from some nebulously defined norm in terms of acceptable levels of awareness of the past.

    Even if we accept the premise that their use of symbolic, Apartheid era imagery is an indication that we have deviated from some acceptable norm in terms of caring and remembering, Die Antwoord appear to adopt cultural images in an almost autistic way. I imagine a toddler being raised by a tribe of chimpanzees and learning to fling its own shit. I wouldn’t say that the toddlers actions are indicative of any underlying thought process of the monkeys. I imagine there are a number of explanations for why the monkeys throw their shit everywhere. I would also reason that the toddler’s shit flinging doesn’t offer any insight into what the shit flinging explanation is, or indicate any microtrends in the shitflinging culture.

    This humorous digression, and implication that Die Antwoord are autistic, shit-flinging toddlers aside, I am trying to say that I don’t think Die Antwoord represent any aspect of South African culture. The idea that they do makes me uncomfortable (and slightly ashamed). I think their criteria for employing certain aesthetics in their videos are as follows:

    a) it looks jas, bra
    b) it looks ToTaLlY ZaNy
    c) it looks South African. Like the movie District 9
    d) well fuck we have to do something
    e) someone else already did it and people fuckin’ loved that shit. This is way easier than thinking up our own stuff, right guys!?

    As far as Jane Alexander is concerned, I don’t think that she is ONLY battling to preserve the meaning of the Butcher Boys in her protest. I also assume that she doesn’t want to be associated with the offending shit-slingers. But you basically said that, so I agree with you. I think it’s worth reemphasising that if some other people (not from SA) had appropriated the aesthetic, it wouldn’t be nearly as problematic because it would be less likely to be associated with the original work.

    Maybe I don’t give Die Antwoord enough credit, but I’m not sure if they’re even aware of the interpretation that they “want to place themselves in the position of white Apartheid oppressors.” Even if I grant them that level of self-awareness, I would assume that they purely intend to shock and garner as much attention through the course of their (hopefully) transient careers.

    I strongly disagree that it is easy to like Die Antwoord.

    The youth day photograph is more difficult, but the commentary on difficulties in gauging how much South Africans are cognisant of the past stands. I would be interested to see the results of a social survey that includes some well-worded questions on this topic. Doing that would be pretty difficult, I think, given that the understanding of history can inform various facets of behaviour. It would also force us to ask what elements of the past we think are most important to remember, and for what reasons.

    In general, I don’t think one can extrapolate information on cultural norms from this kind of output. It’s a pretty hard sell claiming that this one picture, with ALL of its interpretations, can be representative of the entire youth cohort. This is especially true if one considers that the people who made this picture are likely to be different in a number of ways from the average young South African, even if we condition on race and sex. Maybe both of these things are designed purely to shock. If that’s the case, I would interpret them as evidence of the opposite – the fact that forgetfulness isn’t as prevalent. If it is perceived to be socially unacceptable to trivially hijack imagery that is associated with Apartheid, we could surely interpret this to mean that they would outrage the average citizen. This interpretation falls apart if these images are meant to shock inter-generationally.

    Big fucking tl;dr: it’s hard to make the argument that a certain cultural trend is endemic in SA based on a couple of images by people that are likely to be cocks, and not representative.

    • Sure, I generally agree with your points. Certainly, Die Antwoord as representative of ANYTHING South African sits very uncomfortably with me too. Perhaps it is more the response to this whole issue that is more telling? I dunno, is it not easy to like knee-jerk controversy? Sexy music videos? I should admit I fucking loved them when I first saw them perform, they were amazing. That said, I had taken acid, and also they had Wanga/ Evil Boy performing with them then (and he is fucking great, expect an aside on this point in upcoming blog posts).

      Perhaps it’s a lot easier for non-South Africans to like them? Maybe it’s harder to like them now? And maybe you’re right, maybe there is some discomfort for South Africans, a nervous reticence at least…

      And yes, I need to be a lot more convincing to name these specific instances as a really notable trend, hopefully I can do this in a future article soon. I have been thinking about this culture of forgetting for some time. Certainly I am not the only or first person to name it. I think this started for me when I began teaching at at the University of Cape Town – though of course there were exceptions, I was consistently horrified by the ignorance and ambivalence of the (mostly, but not only, white) students, only a few years younger than me, to the history and also present-day realities of Apartheid and racial oppression in South Africa. But, yeah, it was just a very quick post, I’ll be working on this more…

  6. nomonde

    Are we not missing da point though, who cares who they copied the idea from, its sick and shudnt b put on national television. Its sad that America thinks all South Africans are fanz of such demented behavior!
    I’m appalled!

    • Nomonde I disagree here with your use of the word ‘copied’ and also the idea that any imagery should be censored – a position that I am always extremely wary of in any situation. What I do feel is really important though is your point that outside of South Africa, especially in America, the perception of Die Antwoord as somehow unmediated and ‘authentic’ is really pervasive. I discussed this with a group of Art History students before in a lecture I dedicated to Die Antwoord about two years ago. The class had a large American contingent and I remember them being shocked even at the Max Normal videos that I showed them (What! Ninja doesn’t talk like that! He isn’t poor! etc. etc.). Of course this is just anecdotal, and doesn’t apply to all of anyone, but it was definitely illuminating for me.

  7. anon

    Sorry if that doesn’t read all that well. I just hammered it out (although I did think about it for a bit, I didn’t really try and write it very well). As such, I’m not going to stand BEHIND it, but I’ll stand sorta NEARBY.

  8. Ok.

    Craig: In response to ‘Bad history is not worth remembering’, I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, but I think it’s fairly clear that this absolutely is not the case. Germans may want to forget about Nazism, but that doesn’t mean they SHOULD. In South Africa, forgetting bad history is also ignoring the present; it’s not as though Apartheid doesn’t still exist (how many white people do you know living in townships, and how many black South Africans are there at art school?). Anyway, hopefully not enough people share this view for it to be worth commenting on further. That said, I have arguments with Goldsmiths students about, for example, the use of the swastika and whether that’s ok (me, it isn’t. Them, it is) so I guess there IS a lot to say about this. But, later.

    Elan, thank you. Also, have you seen this: http://mitchellsplainonline.com/2011/07/14/jeannie-d-braai-met-die-antwoord-in-mitchells-plain/. SHUDDERS.

    Dan: Thanks for the correction, you’re right. The logic behind that (fairly poorly formed) sentence) is that in dressing up as the Butcher Boys figures who are canonically accepted to represent Apartheid Oppression/oppressor/horror, they (Die Antwoord) are donning this guise themselves. I’m wondering why. In fact I have not seen this video and am open to the idea that the answers (so to speak) to this why – a representation of guilt, acknowledgment of privilege, an ironic nod to their own not-from-Mitchell’s-Plein whiteness, the prevalence of Apartheid in South Africa currently, and of violence etc. – could even prove interesting.

    Jack, I think this also addresses your point. Just to be clear, I lived in the same trendy white suburb as Waddy etc. I am certainly in no position to criticize this position as somehow intrinsically fascistic, or, if I was going to, I would think a lot harder about it.

    Anon, Sure, I generally agree with your points. Certainly, Die Antwoord as representative of ANYTHING South African sits very uncomfortably with me too. Perhaps it is more the response to this whole issue that is more telling? I dunno, is it not easy to like knee-jerk controversy? Sexy music videos? I should admit I fucking loved them when I first saw them perform, they were amazing. That said, I had taken acid, and also they had Wanga/ Evil Boy performing with them then (and he is fucking great, expect an aside on this point in upcoming blog posts).

    Perhaps it’s a lot easier for non-South Africans to like them? Maybe it’s harder to like them now? And maybe you’re right, maybe there is some discomfort for South Africans, a nervous reticence at least.

    Nomonde I disagree here with your use of the word ‘copied’ and also the idea that any imagery should be censored – a position that I am always extremely wary of in any situation. What I do feel is really important though is your point that outside of South Africa, especially in America, the perception of Die Antwoord as somehow unmediated and ‘authentic’ is really pervasive. I discussed this with a group of Art History students before in a lecture I dedicated to Die Antwoord about two years ago. The class had a large American contingent and I remember them being shocked even at the Max Normal videos that I showed them (What! Ninja doesn’t talk like that! He isn’t poor! etc. etc.). Of course this is just anecdotal, and doesn’t apply to all of anyone, but it was definitely illuminating for me.

    In summary, I have been thinking about this culture of forgetting for some time. Certainly I am not the only or first person to name it. I think this started for me when I began teaching at at the University of Cape Town – though of course there were exceptions, I was consistently horrified by the ignorance and ambivalence of the (mostly, but not only, white) students, only a few years younger than me, to the history and also present-day realities of Apartheid and racial oppression in South Africa. But, yeah, it was just a very quick post, I’ll be working on this more…

  9. Maidai

    My question is what if this Jane Alexander work was ‘copied’ or used by a Motswako (Tswana Rap movemenent) or Kwaito (More recognized music) group.. I bet YOU (LS) wouldnt even of noticed it, because it wouldve been on SABC 1 (Which Im pretty sure you dont watch) or channel O (” that gastly hip hop/rap/house channel). It wouldnt have caused such an outcry because you wouldnt even have seen it, and the point of the antwoord being the “opressors” wouldnt even have come up, rather black people/rappers who may be interested in the works meaning or just intrested in its visual aspects would have remained unrealized by the blog reading/writing peoples.. So your comment on IPADS etc kind of relates to yourself, the blog writer… I think I would agree with Alexander on the fact it is a copyright infringement, but would argue that a project that quotes or draws attention to South African art is valuable, as it pushes the IPAD wielding generation to globally and locally talk about Art and its use.. Let them use it so others can speak, would be my point. The more use, the more conversation surrounding South African art the better, maybe it could allow for a topic in the matric syllabus, rather than a Kentridge drawing, an Eduardo Villa’s sculpture, something more in tune or interesting for students in 2012 who may know/like/follow to die antwoord and thus be introduced to Alexander or realize the artwork in a different sense.. Open up your eyes to the bigger picture, exposure, learning, comment and the ability to link what some see as relic, dusty Gauteng matric art exams to something current and global..

  10. Warner

    Just a quick thought:

    Could Die Antwoord postioning themselves artistically and aesthetically as white apartheid-era oppressors be a way of re-appropriating white identity in SA? Similar in the sense that African-Americans re-appropriated the word “nigga.”

    • I think that Afrikaner Culture did a lot of this earlier. Fokofpolisiekar before Francois franchised himself, before him Koos Kombuis, both of whom Die Antwoord reference in their songs (and actually Fokof performed Doosdronk with them when I first saw them). Also Bitterkomix etc.

      I think this is an interesting point, but it’s a lot more complex than the whole “nigga” thing (or the slut thing) etc.

      The difference between a disenfranchised group gaining agency through taking the power AWAY from an image or word used to define them by the oppressor is very different from what is going on here. Die Antwoord’s Zef is fictional, for example, and VOLUNTARY – not inscribed on their bodies from birth, but by choice – just for starters.

      But, I think that part of what Die Antwoord is doing is definitely a new version of whiteness, of South Africanness, of violence. But, are they doing right?

  11. karen

    Great article Linda.

  12. Jurgens

    Interview with them that you might find interesting (about their opinions about Apartheid)

  13. Kopotkin

    I think Maidai has a valid pont. You obviously not, not commenting on it.
    I am immensely irritated by the Anti -Die Antwoord camp’s whining about them not being representative of South African culture, or cringing at the though that they might be representative of South African culture. Since when is that a prerequisite for being an artist? That is the job of diplomats, for heaven’s sake. Clearly Die Antwoord is relevant as their work and actions are creating debate all around. To pretend that they are not, or to brandish pseudo intellectual arguments about how they should not be and why exactly their work is bad, is naive. (didn’t you know, All good art should be ugly at first?)
    The fictional nature of their ‘zefness’ also seem to be a problem for some. Since when is fiction, fabrication and invention off-limits to an artist? Do you really think Marlene van Niekerk is/lives like the people she writes about in ‘Triomf’? Should she then only write about whie middle class womanly things?
    You need more examples?
    IT’S AN ACT. THAT IS WHAT PEOPLE DO WHEN THEY PERFORM. Jeez!
    I respect Die Anwoord for what they have achieved. It is not my kind of music, but they managed to make their mark, and make the world sit up and take notice. And if you and the other envious writers above fail to see the irony in most of what Die Antwoord does, it figures. (also their name is ironic, in case you missed that one)

    I think Me Alexander is overreacting. At least people are taking notice of the Butcher Boys again. But she is getting some good publicity out of it, which artists always need. I think it is an acknowledgement of the importance of the work within the South African cultural landscape. Once the artwork is out in the world, it s part of it, and needs to fend for itself. The artist can’t hang around it to protect I from misinterpretation. I am all for the protection o the integrity of the artwork, but in my opinion it’s use here is not copying(plagiarising it, but engaging with it as a cultural and political symbol. If you fail to see this, maybe you should look harder.

    And on not being able to figure out why Die Antwoord would want to apropriate the roles of apartheid opressors. Do you know what they are about? Have you watched their videos? White. Zef. irony

    Still nothing?

    I give up

  14. Anonymous

    Die Antwoord’s music and art revolves around various forms of imitation and irony.

    It seems like a bit of a stretch to claim their interpretation of Jane Alexander’s “Butcher Boys” entails they are either identifying with or representing pro-apartheid beasts devoid of their senses.

    I think they are bringing the sculpture and the brutality of apartheid to to a greater audience by purposively appealing to the “vacuous neutrality of the consumer”, and I can’t see this as being at all synonymous with a process of forgetting.

    • Anonymous

      Edit:

      As below: “…Yolandi pulls out the twitching still alive heart of a Butcher Boy and then devours it.”
      (Thanks Ben)

      If this is the case then they really don’t appear to be placing themselves in the position of white apartheid oppressors. I do think Die Antwoord probably should have sought Jane Alexander’s permission or at least made her aware that her work would be portrayed in this way though.

      • Rhyan Rockingrolling Rudman

        Get permission that simple collaboration of “artist” is important. Im just not a fan of using shock tactics to get publicity it gets boring after awhile.

  15. Ben (Joffe)

    I just wanted to interject quickly – in the trailer, a black-eyed rat queen Yolandi pulls out the twitching still alive heart of a Butcher Boy and then devours it. Since the standard interpretation is that the Butcher Boys is in part about the dehumanisation of Apartheid for the white oppressor in particular, I can’t really see how the portrayal sets up Yolandi as someone occupying that position. In fact, I think you could even gloss it charitably as follows, if you want: Yolandi, embodying white trash zef subversion and pastiche post-Apartheid, by embracing ‘freekiness’ is devouring the still alive forces of structural racism, or transcending them. This seems in line with Die Antwoord’s idealism in the interview ‘Straight From the Horse’s Piel’ where they say, paraphrased, that before ‘when people thought about SA they thought about Apartheid, now they (should) think of Zef’. So I would still like to know exactly Linda, how you see DA word as embodying the position of white oppressor/privilege in their PERFORMANCES/PERSONAE? I can certainly see how they do through the contradictions of their personal subject positions vis-a-vis their stage ones, but not so much in the visual portrayals per se.

    A few months ago I guest lectured at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the USA (one of the whitest, most privileged campuses you can imagine, I add), as part of a cultural anthropology course I was TA-ing for that was on Culture, Gender, Sexuality, Ethnicity and Race through Film, and satisfied the university’s so-called diversity requirement.I showed the students the documentary ‘Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony’ about the role of music and song in the Struggle. We then discussed the issues around Malema’s invocations of ‘Dubul’ibhunu’ alongside Die Antwoord’s rise to fame. Students read a recent peer-reviewed piece on the history of Afrikaner music and identities, with a focus on post-Apartheid developments, where the authors, zooming in on Jack Parouw and Die Antwoord, suggested that what ‘zef’ was doing was simultaneously glorifying the specter of the ‘poor white (Afrikaner)’ that has long haunted the Afrikaans psyche, and unhinging established racial categories through borrowing and mimesis to look towards a kind a ‘freakier’, hybrid future. I don’t totally go in for all of the DA’s tactics, and agree they are frequently merely trying to shock or titilate, but I will happily say that they DID prove to be a very useful springboard for unpacking questions around class, race and sexuality in SA post-Apartheid in the classroom, especially when juxtaposed with the other material I mentioned. Thanks for the post.

    Ben…

    • Dan

      Ben just to add to your point above – in the video it is infact only Ninja who resembles one of the Butcher Boys (horns and all) interesting to note that he is one who has the heart ripped out of his chest, also did you notice that he was wearing boxer shorts with the American flag on them. Considering this I think it is more likely, like you say, that their intentions behind the references to the Butcher Boys (if there was indeed an intended reference) were more along the lines of DA (represented by Yolandi) “embodying white trash zef subversion and pastiche post-Apartheid, by embracing ‘freekiness’ is devouring the still alive forces of structural racism, or transcending them.”

    • Hey Ben,

      Thanks – Like I said at the beginning, I still haven’t actually seen the video. And I think I remain ambivalent throughout about the possibilities of how they might be using the image, although this comes across much more clearly in my response to earlier comments: “I’m wondering why. In fact I have not seen this video and am open to the idea that the answers (so to speak) to this why – a representation of guilt, acknowledgment of privilege, an ironic nod to their own not-from-Mitchell’s-Plein whiteness, the prevalence of Apartheid in South Africa currently, and of violence etc. – could even prove very interesting.” I definitely never used the word embodiment in that context, I guess ‘place themselves in the position of’ should read as analogous to ‘dress up as’, or ‘don the guise of’, which would be more accurate. And I certainly don’t deny that this could have exciting possibilities. What my point is, though, and I think it is still important, is whether Die Antwoord’s particular appropriation of this signifier of oppression is a) indicative of a broader cultural reappropriation of Apartheid that is happening WITHOUT an understanding or empathy to the actual history of Apartheid and b) whether this is in fact appropriate in South Africa today.

      Sorry about all the commas, but am trying to respond to everyone and actually formulate a proper argument simultaneously.

  16. thisshitiswack

    I think there is something going amiss in this debate… and that is the issue of respect…Artists SHOULD have a natural code of respect for the other. If you don’t have the good manners to ask someone if they mind you using their iconic imagination for your own manufactured agenda, at least credit them!

    Waddy and Yolandi have worked hard over the years through their chameleon like transformations. Waddy looked high and low for the winning formula and found his niche… Any South African who actually believes their performance art approach to music is anything close to authentic is unbelievably stupid. I definitely feel a marked uneasiness about ignorant, international audiences buying this as a true representation of SA in any way, but I cannot deny Die Antwoord the recognition for their triumph and shameless determination in duping the world. Waddy aka Ninja reminds me of “The Brain”, with his faithful “Pinky” beside him aka Yolandi.

    They are unfortunately growing a rather nasty reputation amongst fellow creators in SA though… Read this article for a reminder of some of their (in light of this latest blight… very ironic) wrath.

    http://www.2oceansvibe.com/2010/11/01/die-antwoord-are-seriously-unhappy-with-sean-metelerkamp/

  17. karien van der westhuizen

    agree about alexanders reaction, but your view re: frivolity sounds awfully reactionary. it is easier to laugh about our past, to make fun of the oppressive seriousness with which we reflect upon a very hurtful history. that is what many people do, and clearly humour about heavy things (satirical or banale) is quite a popular human thing. fuck all the fascist shoulds and the tyranny of idealism around how south africans ‘should’ respond to our collective wound. are you really for policing that?

  18. bator

    So those boys in the National Gallery are getting some attention again. Been a while- and I am sure there is more current interest in Die Antwoord then the Butcher boys – she should be thanking them for the publicity.

  19. With reference to the Hector Pieterson “remake” we have a context issue here. Niether this aritcle nor the article you link to gives any context as to why this remake exists. Is it not possible it is directly commenting on the very point you are making.. The sense that Africa is in a process of selective memory as to it’s history?

    Take Zbignew Liberia’s Positives series.. surely taken out of context this work would seem hugely insensitive, however when framed within the context it has been made for we are forced to reasses our connections with iconic images of unimaginable trauma.

  20. daniel j. harris

    Linda, Elan you both should no better. All artists appropriate, if Die Antwoord used images from Duchamp, Warhol or Tarantino would it mean anything different? Clearly Die Antwoord are an “art” rap performance act. They can steal from whoever they like according to laws of what is in the public domain. Jane Alexanders Butcher Boys in the national gallery is in the public domain and she knows that and is vol kak.

  21. RK

    I’m not particularly interested in the issues of artistic production vis-a-vis originality, appropriation/allusion/mash-up, whatever. I’m almost certain that Die Antwoord and Alexander will work something out.

    I’m more interested in the contradictions that this issue highlights between the artists as legal subjects and the personas created by the artists, and this in the context of fanbot critics who have dismissed most political criticism of Die Antwoord by referencing a range of distances between the art and ‘the real’: irony, satire, parody, etc. In other words, Die Antwoord’s texts have often been sanctified by foregrounding its artistry, and the artists sanctified and protected from criticism by foregrounding the fact that Ninja and Yolandi are personas, fictions, themselves products of the artistry of Waddy Jones and Anri du Toit. This also while critics will treat an interview with Ninja as straight, from the horses mouth, providing a certain truthful explanation of this or that about the band (while it is often clear that Ninja is bullshitting, which is a characteristic of his persona).

    In some of my commentary on the band elsewhere, I have questioned this erasure of Waddy Jones, of the artist as legal subject, and of the ‘real’ artist. The predictable references to Aladdin Sane, Lady Gaga, etc. etc. will follow. But the legal issue complicates attempts to erase the real artist. Would that critics will take notice of this.

    On the issue of criticism and commentary that is critical of Die Antwoord – many people dismiss it as policing, blind to the irony that their dismissals may be characterised as the same, i.e. policing criticism. Criticism is part of culture. Contestation over its values are part of culture. South Africa has not, by a very long shot, emerged from its apartheid past, like it or not, and everything is still (and will be for a very long time) open to contestation. People who believe that the field has settled – that we should move on – are in for a rude shock.

  22. A simple explanation from Die Antwoord would have been better than pulling the video. What the work means and how people actually interpret is, has changed. We might want to forget about Apartheid, but we are not allowed to.

    I feel they could have given some sort of credit to the artist, or perhaps asked for permission, but i feel that would have changed the whole idea of Die Antwoord.

    Regardless of all of that, I still feel pulling the video was a mistake. It woke my love for the Butcher Boys <3

  23. what makes DA interesting to me is that i can’t pin down what they are doing. are these characters? caricatures? themselves? it’s been done forever, creating these kinds of mash ups of identity, but it’s also a uniquly new millenium gambit and a lot of the most interesting art made right now plays with this [although i won't put DA in the category of 'most interesting art,' at least not yet. they're a little cheesy.]. it’s why the art mash up works for me too: i can’t tell what they are doing with what they’ve appropriated. it destabilizes in an interesting way. i would say though taking over someone’s imagery by force or w/o permission or in representationally ‘wrong’ ways is exactly the point. it would hardly be ‘dangerous’–the largest part of their personas–to go ahead and academically cite the artists they take from.

  24. they have lost the plot. i’m ashamed we have become a society where everything is just so ‘whatever’. great article linda.

  25. I got kids to feed, educate, love, friends to love….paintings to paint …..check you all later!
    regards
    the essence

  26. john nankin

    Linda, the male figure in the video is visually (in many details) based on one of the the three butcher boys (ie a specific figure), as Waddy has explained – i mention this because many have written about this as if Die Antwoord had created a generalized horned figure. re The ‘whiteness’ of apartheid oppression, it is arguable that the male figure in the TENSION video’trailer , while grey (like the BBs) represents – in the context of NINJA and DiE ANTWOORD – the kind of male cape flats gangster figure that much of NINJA’s early characterization, style and language referenced. The figure is wearing briefs made from the stars and stripes, which I read not as a reference to the USA but to the Americans Gang from the Cape Flats. Also, I have to say that the face of this creature is , to me, a crude caricature of a “Coloured Gangster”. It is possible, given the decentralized work process in the production of such a video that this came about through the intervention and interpretation of the make up person, perhaps a misguided attempt to reproduce the Butcher Boy’s snout, but Waddy Jone’s control of the medium is such that I think it is fair to see everything in his work as ‘intentional’. So , ironically, at a time when NINJA (judging by the many clips and interviews on youtube) seems to have become an agent for re-introducing Waddy to the world as artist about to or in the process of yet another reinvention/reincarnation( ie without the Cape Flats Gangster persona), it seems that TENSION’s trailer raises again some of the issues and criticisms leveled at the band’s work last year, sensitivities around cultural appropriation, racial stereotyping, and dare i say ‘exploitation of the abject’. I place the latter in inverted commas, because I realize that to do this is not in itself a crime. Ballen and many others have produced what many consider to be very fine work that could be characterized by others as heartless (a domestic term, perhaps out of place in speaking about ‘art’?). But it is obvious to me that the abject in the work of say a Jane Alexander is approached very differently from say in Ballen or Die Antwoord. Alexander ‘s MA thesis spells out at length her approach to spectacle. The Butcher Boys, on my reading of her writings was never intended to shock the veiwer in this register (of a beating heart being pulled from a chest, in a demonic context). She writes that while a car crash may attract and fascinate spectators, it does not convey the kinds of meanings which deeply affect them. (from my memory, I read this was years ago). I liked your response very much. It is just one of life’s complexities that while being appalled by the meanings of Tension’s trailer I do also think that this was a beautifully crafted little film.

  27. Rhyan Rockingrolling Rudman

    My R10 worth. DA has copied many things Waddy used to work as a CHEF does anyone know this and even then he used to almost copy peoples personalities. When I first heard DA I sort of got into it I like rebellious music then I saw them live and I was very disappointed. Vocal quality was crap and eventually the whole stage performance began to repeat itself over and over until I removed myself and went and repeated myself at the bar. I think they need to find the plot they excavated beyond recognition GOOD LUCK

  28. ann

    I’m astonished how much time people who don’t like Die Antwoord spend not liking Die Antwoord.

    • JackyLloyd

      ann I think it is not so much about liking or disliking DA , the real interest for artists is about appropriation of images . A naturally messy area which occasionally requires some shit detection , the odd lawyer , an open mind , and some responsibility toward context and history , otherwise it all just becomes meaningless blather.

    • Rhyan Rockingrolling Rudman

      You 100% correct I follow music related news as I work in the industry so we need to keep ourselves up to date of whats going on. I would not take many things seriously due to the fact that Opinions are like arseholes smelly and we all have one. have a kiff Fryhighday.

  29. Sca Shilova

    Die Antwoord is managing to lift art and music to the (dare i say) next level for sure… fusing genre’s, disciplines, culture & cultures with media and timelines. What magically transpires is a catalytic sculpting into visibilty the underlaying core – the truth that got obscured by years of mondial fracturing through misinformation. DA is not only post-apartheid, they are post-information-revolution.
    I actually thought the usage was cool since the figure had american flag underpants on… brilliant actually that Yo-Landi pulls it’s heart (and plug) out and eats it up while still pumping! America is also dehumanising – drawing this parellel between America and apartheid is brilliant, especially since apartheid has been replaced with capitalism, and considering that apartheid has gone global and can do with all and any focus on it’s butchery content. Another brilliant stroke which coincides with this is Die Antwoord’s ditching of the American record company Interscope (50 cent, Eminem, lady Gaga, M.I.A., etc etc etc) in favour of self promotion. Either way, DEATH TO APARTHEID and well done to Die Antwoord AND to Jane Alexander! We are all comrads and we are not to be divided!

    • Sca Shilova

      ps: As far as I’m concerned Waddy is a genius. I had no doubt when they came out that they were designing a magical trojan horse of undefined and unpredecented magnitude – of which the unfolding was going to be expansive, interactive, and intuitive. They came in deep with the perfect hook, rooted into the far corners of the globe – and now we can all fasten our seat belts. Did anyone miss the ying yang sign? the irony? the laughing buddha hiding in every corner… the signs are everywhere.

  30. Bud Blazer

    Die Antwoord and this article brought the Butcher Boys BACK into my memory and taught me about its symbolism and context, (though i still don’t get it). I am sure the necessary royalties/recognition could be organised so that other zef ou’s can also see the butcher boys. And maybe Yolandi and Ninja could do a rap with Jane on the next album…. :-)

  31. “Plagiarism is necessary, progress implies it.”
    Lautréamont, c1870

    I can’t imagine an art history class in South Africa or anywhere in the world that does not make reference to Duchamp’s “L.H.O.O.Q” — a postcard of Da Vinci’s famous painting of the “Mona Lisa” with an added moustache. There are many other examples: the Situationist painter Asger Jorn, who partially painted over works of art he acquired at flea markets; Sherrie Levine, who re-photographed other photographer’s works and presented the results as her own; Anton Kannemeyer, who often references Hergé’s Tintin. Certainly Picasso’s use of African masks in Les Demoiselles D’ Avignon has been hotly debated… though the painting has yet to be destroyed!

    “Appropriation” is by now a convention within the art institution and (using the above examples) a practice that is taught daily in the art school.

    Within US copyright law, I would imagine that Die Antwoord’s appropriation of Jane Alexander’s “Butcher Boys” meets most if not all the requirements of the “Fair Use” doctrine.
    Though I recognise that South African copyright law is not as liberal as that.

    While there may be some legal merit to Alexander’s claim in South African law, her action has unfortunately resulted in the censorship of another artist’s work.

    If anything, Die Antwoord’s quoting of Alexander’s work has rekindled the whole debate around “The Butcher Boys’” relevance within South African culture. Perhaps it has made it more relevant!

    Furthermore, returning to Lautreamont’s quote above, the very fact that Die Antwoord chose to quote “The Butcher Boys” in this way is a sign of how the meaning of that work has changed and represents for better or for worse how South African culture has changed – progress implies it!

    • Hi Siemon,

      Sure, I agree with the whole ‘everything is a remix’ culture of contemporary art and culture, and as I said in the article, I tend to be AGAINST the author generally in these kinds of arguments. I do think though, that the issue of copyright and fair use is a bit more complex – If Beyonce had used Jane’s sculpture’s, with a music video selling millions of copies or, worse, if it was BMW (remember how angry we ALL were re. the Gerhard Marx, BMW debacle), this would seem like a non-debate, where the advertiser/producer/music-video-maker was USING an artist’s imaginative production to sell something else. Do ‘we’ consider Die Antwoord’s trailer (which is essentially an advert) to be art because of what ‘we’ (South Africans) know about Waddy? Is it somehow inherently different from the something-else, something-bad of advertising?

      Also, I think that the whole idea of progress is very problematic, and also seems counter-intuitive in an argument about remixing culture, which is entirely at odds with this teleological kind of Modernist ideology. But, I guess what I am questioning is what we lose with progress, the kinds of baggage that gets dropped, forgotten. The ‘whatever-ness’ of certain kinds of appropriation.

      Regarding the point about The Butcher Boy’s reappearance into culture, I wonder how many people are ACTUALLY talking about the sculptures, or the artist, in any kind of meaningful way here? Or rather just casting her as some kind of old fashioned miser or, worse, in many cases, someone greedy or money hungry…

      • siemonallen

        An Art of Consumption

        You are right! I accept being thoroughly busted on my unexamined use of the word “progress” and my quoting of Lautréamont without acknowledging the very particular cultural and historical context of the statement! Of course I agree that to evoke some notion of progress as Progress is problematic. I suppose I wanted to insert the quote to operate in a more poetic, even circular way. My intention in using the term was to articulate not so much a notion of evolution to some idealized endpoint but rather simply as a shift in position from point A to B — the South Africa of The Butcher Boys is different from the South Africa of Die Antwoord.

        As I began to observe this debate unfold I could not help in my own mind frame it by considering the so-called grandfather of appropriation (diversion) — Lautréamont. My actual source for his quote was a secondary one: Debord and Wolman’s 1956 essay Methods of Detournement. My reading of Debord’s concept of detournement (lets call it appropriation) was as a political strategy or tool for breaking down cultural stagnation — cut up the past to make the present! I would imagine appropriation whether in the case of Lautréamont, Duchamp, Dada or Debord was seen as a tool of transgression. And perhaps, in order for it to still be relevant, it has to continue operating in that zone?

        So we might say that Die Antwoord has the (transgressive) right to use Butcher Boys as Jane Alexander has the (legal) right to check them. The work that appropriates the ‘original’ work is removed from view and Alexander wins legally. But the debate continues here and elsewhere, and Die Antwoord wins ‘spectacularly’.

        The situationist (or letterist) agenda claimed an anti-capitalist position and no such claim could be made of Die Antwoord’s Ten$ion promo video. And yet with regard to the issue of whether the video is an advertisement or an artwork, my sense is that every public action is a kind of advertisement — an exhibition, this blog, our conversation. We are all selling our interests, our positions.

        And what of originality and the Butcher Boys? What kinships can we identify with the particular, now iconic, physiognomy of these creatures? Alexander in Resistance Art names Mark Prent and Ed Keinholz as influences and certainly I can see elements of David Brown and Paul Stopforth in the work. But perhaps more interesting is not the affinities her sculpture holds with other figurative works of a period, but the very 1980s zeitgeist out of which the work was produced. For example, one specific memory I have from that time when visiting our local video store in Durban was seeing the VHS cover for the fantasy film Legend. The Ridley Scott movie, featuring Tim Curry as the “Lord of Darkness,” was made between 1984-85 and released in the UK in December 1985. Butcher Boys through this lens could be seen as a being situated within the genre of a figurative FX fantasy horror tableau. And yet it was an artwork made, shown, and interpreted within historical circumstances that made it impossible to read any work as anything but deeply political.

        So I can see how, given the stakes, the central argument is not so much the old ones about appropriation and originality, but one of cultural memory. Certainly it is reasonable to object to moves if those moves are seen as sloppy, thoughtless, or baldly exploitative uses (mis-uses) of icons of resistance art. Of course I can understand how this is especially troubling to anyone coming of age in the 1980s and sensitive to the potential for a post-apartheid generation to forget. And yet I can’t help but question the leap from Die Antwoord’s use of the Butcher Boys image to a denial of the horrors of apartheid. Is saying “apartheid is so yesterday” a denial or the ultimate anti-apartheid statement spoken through current language?

        Lets re-unpack the video: Yolandi Visser, as a pixie demon (not one of Alexander’s), takes out the heart of Waddy Jones, who for sake of argument lets say is in the role of a Butcher Boy. She begins to feed on his heart. What is this intended to mean? Maybe nothing and we are back full circle to fantasy horror. Would most South Africans familiar with those resistant art icons, the Butcher Boys, see the image as a personification of the monstrousness of oppression, both within the soul of the oppressor and those oppressed? Then what is Visser doing but cannibalizing the heart of oppression? Though this could also be read as consuming.

        If we take Debord’s notion of consuming the past to generate a new present then Die Antwoord is performing two types of consumption: 1) through this action they are consuming the heart of oppression; 2) from an art historical perspective, they are consuming an icon of resistance art.

        I also wonder if the consumption in both the Hector Peterson example you include above and the Ten$ion promo video provides a moment of catharsis? As when Woody Allen in Zelig inserts himself next to Hitler, awkward as it may be, it allows us to confront an atrocity of the past head on, by making light of it.

        And then what are we to make of the fact that Jones’ Butcher Boy wears USA flag boxer shorts? Interestingly in an interview he talks about how racism is hidden and festering in America in contrast to the ugly tumor of apartheid (he gestures to his heart) that was torn out and exposed in South Africa. Surely the inclusion of this ‘minor’ clothing detail changes significantly the ‘original’ meaning of Alexander’s Butcher Boy’s, channeling them to take on a new and larger critique.

        Of course you are right, the difference between intelligent appropriation and what you rightly refer to as “whatever” appropriation is the rub! I can certainly see how the strategies of Visser and Jones could be seen as either, depending on one’s point of view. But as meaning making people I think when we view the Ten$ion promo we are led back to rethinking the complex semiotics of Butcher Boys thirty years after. I allow that I have no idea what Visser and Jones are up to. Maybe this is just another example of the Oedipal strategies of one generation provocatively desecrating the sacred icons of another. Maybe Visser is not consuming in the Debord sense but merely consuming. Maybe this is just more erotic, exhibitionist roll-playing between the two. But as a viewer when I look at this work, I am brought back to reconsider the Butcher Boys and in doing so I engage in a new complex narrative that holds both uneasily in the same space.

        Maybe it all comes down to what Emerson says in his essay Quotation and Originality, “What you owe to me – you will vary the phrase – but I shall still recognize my thought. But what you say from the same idea, will have to me also the expected unexpectedness which belongs to every new work of Nature.”

        With appreciation for a great blog and for the engaging discussion!
        Siemon

    • Hi Siemon (for some reason I cant reply after your last post, so am doing it here).

      Firstly, thank you for the really engaged intelligent comment, so rare and so appreciated on a blog. You offer a very valid critique of the video, and I think were it not for other things about Die Antwoord’s persona that have really bothered me, and continue to bother me.

      I guess my argument is that The Butcher Boys functions somehow differently (as less, or as more, or both) than ‘the artwork’ because of it’s particular grounding in time and space. But, of course, as you argue, Die Antwoord have de-anchored the work, which in some ways broadens its potential to speak to South Africans NOW, as opposed to thirty years ago. I think my argument is that maybe The Butcher Boys should say the same things that they did thirty years ago (of course ‘should say’ is very problematic in terms of describing an artwork’s function), or at least that I am very wary of lifting them from their original context into another, as it seems to mimic a kind of erasure of this context (which, here, is Apartheid).

      A longer, more in depth article went up on Mahala today. Maybe it’s a bit clearer?

      http://www.mahala.co.za/art/butchered/#more-26471

      Thank you again, and keep in touch!
      x

  32. Joey

    Im just pissed off i cant view the trailer anymore.
    I think that Jane Alexander is just using this to gain her own publicity. cuz i sure would of never heard of her if she didnt throw a fit about this, like the article begins with -its not like she invented people with horns. especial as mundane as rams horns. and the other two characters in her sculpture look nothing like yolandi or sixteen.

    Zef has reached people more out side of south africa then i think it probably has within south africa. I dont see them as a representation of south african culture, I see them as entertainment and they may show south african culture as THEY preceive it. When all you people complain and argue about them being south african icons or trying to be represenatives of the cultures then i begin to think- well maybe they are being more realistic and less entertainment then i thought.. because culture differences create arguments in ignorant and bias holding people, and they seem to stir up alot of peoples opinions and arguments or protest just by making music, and the funny thing is, they arent even mainstream, so to find them you have to actually look for them or happen upon them by accident, so all the people hating them just makes it that much easier for people who (like me) want something different and are tired of being confined to everyones expectations, mainstream music today is pitiful, horrible, untalented, unthoughtful, and meaningless noise to me. (granted a few artists that actually have instrumental, vocal, or lyrical skills have made some good songs and in fewer cases albums) but music, just like art is prone to preception and everyone preceives differently, the quicker people figure that out and accept it, the sooner we can begone with the bullshit. and pointless unwinnable arguments like all of the ones in this thread. both sides loose unless one of you is an empath and can actually feel, understand, and experience
    everyones side of the argument.

    Good day.

  33. Though it has been removed from some sites, you can still find the promo clip on Vimeo:
    http://vimeo.com/36506818

  34. When I first saw the “I Fink U Freeky” video, I was amazed by its freshness in both sound and imagery. I had no clue of its references, hidden messages, or who Die Antwoord was. I was an instant fan.

    However, as an artist, I craved to know more and after some research, I ended up here…and into this comment section. Because the research and reading your comments, I’ve gained some understanding about what their song is about, how they’re donning a fabricated image, and such. I also understand the conversation/ debate about their “stealing” and so forth. But I am unclear as to why they are offensive/ inappropriate as I am in the dark about the affairs/history of South Africa and how it connects to the “I Fink U Freeky” video. Will someone enlighten me?

    Is the argument about Die Antwoord about their inauthenticity, their stealing of other artist’s work or the offensiveness of their lyrical content? Or is it something else? I love this debate as I have JUST discovered D.A., but I would like to know exactly why/ how D.A. are offensive. I really don’t want to miss the point(s) you all are making.

    • Hi Jackson,
      These are all good questions, and I think that it’s very difficult to understand the issues South Africans have with Die Antwoord when coming from outside of the country. I’m working on a fairly in depth article for http://www.mahala.co.za, which hopefully addresses these questions, and which should go up at the end of the week – sorry I know this is a deferral of your question, but, basically, hopefully this article will be more helpful and explanatory, and will link to it here as soon as it’s up.

  35. Robyn

    Interesting this comment by The Standard Bank team in 2011 on JA’s work “When it comes to talking about the meaning of her work, the artist herself is often described both as one of the most highly regarded artists in South Africa and also as one of the most reticent (artthrob.co.za). She prefers her work to speak for itself. My estimation of her went up even more when I read this. When it comes to describing works of art, words are often like an ill-fitting coat that distances one from a direct experience which is so valid and purely because it is so personal. And meaning changes over time. So to say that this piece is solely about the artist’s comment on violence and apartheid would be to limit it’s relevance.”

  36. JackyLloyd

    ” I think my argument is that maybe The Butcher Boys should say the same things that they did thirty years ago (of course ‘should say’ is very problematic in terms of describing an artwork’s function), or at least that I am very wary of lifting them from their original context into another, as it seems to mimic a kind of erasure of this context (which, here, is Apartheid).”

    It is not too far a stretch for The Butcher Boys to transcend their symbol as Apartheid Patriarchal Bullies to Post-apartheid Patriarchal Bullies. A decent archetype is always transcendent of its humble birth.

    • Sure – but, do you think this comes across in Die Antwoord’s video? I dunno, maybe it does… I am certainly not damning all appropriation, or even appropriation of political work – Dumile Feni’s African Geurnica for example:
      http://www.pelmama.org/Johannesburg-artscene_DUMILE-34.htm

      I guess I just see Die Antwoord’s usage here, particularly in the context of their performance/personae more generally, as a kind of kitschification which disregards the original context. But, I do think that your link of the sculpture to patriarchy is very useful, and interesting – and in this context, Yolandi’s heart-ripping-out may well be considered a more valid gesture…

  37. Just a note – thank you to everyone for the engagement on this issue – I have written a longer piece over at Mahala, which maybe explicates some of these ideas more clearly:

    http://www.mahala.co.za/art/butchered/#more-26471

    I am more likely to respond to comments here though, just ’cause Mahala can get really really ugly. So, happy to carry on the discussion here or, better, here: http://lindastupart.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/butchered-die-antwoord-v-2-0/

    x

  38. JackyLloyd

    I admit I find the video to be quite inane , but for the same reason also quite like it, possibly for an inane reason .Sort of Avatar-Alexander.
    The magic of archetypes is that they are appropriated in completely diverse contexts , without ever losing their numinous appeal , or underlying message. The more they are used and repeated ,even unconsciously, the more powerful they become.
    With hindsight Jane Alexander might be grateful for the continuous life cycle of her Butcher Boys.
    Power to her for giving birth to such a potent symbol of hu/man cruelty.
    If it were not for Alexander’s fabled reticence , introversion,intellectual seriousness, I’d see her legal confrontation as a sharp PR move.

  39. Pingback: “I Fink U Freeky” – Die Antwoord

  40. Jesse

    You don’t see any sign of Stalin or Lenin in today’s Bucharest, the US has a hollocaust museum for the Jews but not for the Native Americans. We can’t help but forget, and people that define themselves by remembering are doomed to repeat. There are Russian tanks as memorials on the side of the road outside of Kabul, at the Herrat airport there’s a Russian jet. I know the saying… he who does not remember history is doomed to repeat it. Yeah, it’s a lie. It’s the capacity to forget history that frees us to break the cycles of history and stop reliving the same misadventures.

  41. Johannes Scott

    ‘What I am more interested in’ is your defence of the artist’s ‘desperate attempt to retain some meaning …’ of contemporariness against the (popular?) reception of her work. In a way, paradoxically, it reminds me of Roland Barthes when he wrote in ‘The Death of the Author’ that ‘the image of literature [art] to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centered on the author [artist], his person, his life.’ Perhaps, against ‘Alexander trying to control her authorial rights,’ the gesture of Agamben could be more appropriate when he says: ‘the trace of the writer [artist] is found only in the singularity of his absence; he must assume the role of the dead man in the game of writing.’

  42. First of all, thanks for the interesting read, Linda and commenters. I am an American college student who is a fan of Die Antwoord, and I am very glad to have stumbled across this blog entry. Hopefully I can reassure you that they do not symbolize or represent South Africa to me or anyone I know that has heard of them. A handful of very ignorant people might jump to that conclusion, but there’s never much you can do about that. I believe, if anything, Die Antwoord piques international interest in South Africa; I know they did for me, but I am also an anthropology major, so I am naturally curious about other cultures.

    “The culture of forgetting” is something I see constantly; I live in Montgomery, Alabama, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. You would think because of this it would be a city of progression and tolerance, but there is more racial tension in this city than anywhere else I’ve lived (about 6 different cities). There’s a tone of resentment in the air; even the presenter at the Rosa Parks Museum/Civil Rights Memorial here noted, quite bitterly, in her presentation that she would not have been allowed to go to the college that funds the museum because it was segregated. I believe that trying to move on too quickly from a past like that comes off as very insensitive to those who were disadvantaged by it, and undoubtedly that explains the tension here. No one talks much about the civil rights movement, yet my friends’ grandparents are more than old enough to remember what it was like to have no voice and no rights. My dad could remember seeing “negro-only” water fountains. When Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, my mom in inner-city New Orleans couldn’t go to school for weeks because of the riots. It’s still fresh in the memories of anyone who was alive during that time, yet the only time it’s openly talked about is in a grade school history class, of course without the gruesome details of those who died fighting to just be recognized as equal human beings. I think the first major step is opening up about the shameful or hurtful history. Only then can you allude to it the way Die Antwoord did, at least comfortably and without being insensitive. I tried to think of an American example of this, but I honestly cannot. And if someone did that here there would be all kinds of uproar and racist accusations, as well as a kiss goodbye to any mainstream career.

    I’d like to add that I did not even know about Apartheid until about a year ago, and even then I did not realize it was in South Africa. Only after hearing Waddy/Ninja rap about it did I know that. I’m definitely not proud of that. But I see a lot of parallels with Apartheid and the pre-civil rights America. At least Die Antwoord is helping shed light in that small way.

  43. Sara

    I know this is response to dorment thread, but I felt compelled to point out something that I couldn’t see being disucssed.
    The running theme and criticism/fear that Die Antwoords portrayal of ‘Zef’ culture mis-represents South Africa is ludicrous to me. Is every artist to be responsible for the accurate and current portrayal of their entire nation in all it’s diversity and sub-cultures?!?!?! Are artists not allowed to focus on or represent a particular issue/subculture/minority in order to be considered to anything other than disingenuous or even dangerous?
    Must Marylin Manson comply with the accepted perceptions of American cultural imagory in order to be considered a suitable representation of the United States?! is it not possible that music and art have diversified to such an extent that artists CAN portray more deeply a smaller subculture (within which they may or may not operate themselves).
    Did Tupac portray the life of the average American through his music?! or was he simply painting his part of the picture (or a part that he wants to highlight at least), rather than the entire country?
    Cultural perceptions through art and music are usually built up of many facetes and outlets of those cultures, and eventually a tapestry of all those different works is created, allowing for a fuller, more accepted/normalised picture of a country.
    In Die Antwoords case, (internationally at least) they are one of very few piece of the puzzle that has popped through and is being seen by an international audience on any mass level. It will hopefully pave the way for other aspects (exaggerated, authentic, or otherwise) of South African culture to be shared with the world, and Die Antwoord should not be criticised for the absence of the other parts of the puzzle sitting alongside them.

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