Anton Kannemeyer’s exhibition is the bleating of a bitter man


Anton Kannemeyer’s E is for Exhibition is a mixture of bitterness, protest and platitudes. By protest, I mean protest for protest’s sake, which doesn’t quite elevate the exhibition to a creative act – not by a long shot.

To be plain and exact, E is for Exhibition is not a creative act, but a momentary bleating of a bitter man, woefully and wilfully ignorant of the mechanisations of his democratic country, and the organisation of its patterns of power and oppression.

This ignorance is evident in K is for King Klepto, where the text accuses the president of having “wiped his bottom with his so-called beloved people”.

The text is dichotomous, dividing South Africa into two: the one that belongs to the president and his “beloved people”, and the other that is not mentioned, but one gets a sneaking suspicion Kannemeyer is perhaps alluding to privileged white South Africans who have no president, yet hold all the power.

I bear no sentimentality for the president, but if we are to talk about wiping bums with “beloved people”, we might need to talk about whose “beloved people” privileged white South Africa wipes its bum with?

With whose “beloved people” does Kannemeyer’s alma mater, Stellenbosch University, wipe its bum with? Who are the president’s “beloved people”?

A man of more critical function might be led to ask this, taking into account the assumption that Kannemeyer makes in the now infamous R is for Respect (featuring protesters and the presidential penis) that the president has betrayed black South Africans, promoting the false construct that blacks (more so, poor black South Africans) constitute a singular undifferentiated mass.

It is not surprising this work has been received as racist, not merely for its depiction of the symbolic cock of the president, but for portraying black people as an undistinguishable mass, thus erasing them completely before stripping them of any agency.

The artist dreams up these “beloved people” as unthinking instruments of the political machine the exhibition seeks to critique, while also exploiting their bodies as templates on which to score political points.

This, in  layman’s terms, is exploitation veiled as compassion from an artist who uses racist tropes to subvert or satirise racism – the minstrelsy character of thick red lips on tar-black skin, the black man’s big, menacing cock and his fearfully conjured colonial virility that function as fetish and behind the historic logic of the manacles binding his feet.

The work reads like a braai conversation among (former) News24 commentators. Nearly every piece smacks of the hollowest reductionism as preferred by a certain privileged section of South Africa and its lackeys.

Where is texture and interrogation in this? Where is the art? Where can people access and locate themselves in this work? Where is the artistic import outside this grand narrative that reads like newspaper clippings from Die Burger?

If this is Kannemeyer’s understanding of post-apartheid South Africa, I suggest he discards whatever material he is reading and perhaps look out his window at UCT’s #RhodesMustFall, at #Luister and #OpenStellenbosch, at #FeesMustFall and at the silicosis class action by 54 mine workers against 30 gold mining houses.

Anton Kannemeyer’s E is for Exhibition runs until November 13 at the Stevenson gallery in Joburg

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