≡ The authentic artificiality of cultural appropriation: it’s no nonsense ≡



Author Busisiwe Deyi writes about Cultural Appropriation in Africa is a Country, in the context of the SPUR restaurant chain. Although the text is about this specific brand, the arguments go for other situations.

What the fuck is happening in the fashion world these days that everyone wants to be Native American?

Or do they?

Of course they don’t.

Whenever a brand is promoting something what they’re selling is a promise of authenticity and that promise is usually associated with experiences and emotions.

So the question is: what ideas are associated with the notion of a Native American individual?

I’ll suggest a few for starters: genuineness, uniqueness, purity, integrity, simplicity, honour and so on.


Before properly addressing Deyi’s artcile, I’d like to quote from the master. In Rhetoric of the Image, from 1964, Barthes wrote:

“Linguistics is not alone in doubting the linguistic nature of the image; public opinion as well vaguely regards the image as a site of resistance to meaning, in the name of a certain mythical notion of Life: the image is re-presentation, i.e, ultimately resurrection and we know that the intelligible is reputed antipathetic to the experiential.”


Back to Deyi’s artcile, she writes:

“The idea being to give you an authentic Native American experience through its menu that consists of spicy beef strips, calamari, nachos Mexicana, cheesy chicken quesadillas. (…) nothing about SPUR is Native North American except for its use of a Native American chief-like figure on its logo and Native American-esque names and themes. In truth, rather than Native American experience or culture, the imagery used by SPUR is that of the frontier US West and Southwest. Spurs are what cowboys wore and it was the conquest of Native American land, the making them subaltern, which is subsumed in the image of the Native American warrior image in the brand (a brand also largely of Hollywood’s making).


The erasure of black and other minorities through the removal of cultural meaning and rendering of cultural symbols into one dimensional products or dumbification through commercialization is a staple of the corporate world. However, this racist cultural appropriation by corporations in their advertising is something we rarely explore in South Africa. By erasure I don’t mean absence, I mean symbolic annihilation. Symbolic annihilation is the process of erasure under or misrepresentation of some group of people in the media, this is usually based on race, socio-economic status or religion. A particularly egregious form is erasure through the portrayal of harmful stereotypes and/or invisibilisation through the reduction of history and culture into products or commodities that are then used for profit. This form of erasure is astoundingly offensive as it minimises entire histories and cultures rich with meaning and legacy, rendering them one-dimensional caricatures. This is by no means incidental but part of a system which is inherently racist and which maintains inequality through locating and concentrating privilege in whiteness. Wealth enables those at the top of the hierarchy to continue this system of racial inequality by recreating and perpetuating images of minorities that confirm ideas justifying oppression.

This makes sense of course, if an oppressor can maintain the idea that those they oppress are deserving of their oppression then it becomes difficult for the oppressed to mobilise against them. It reallocates the blame onto the oppressed and allows the oppressor to take comfort in the idea that their privilege is deserved. A collorary is that it allows the oppressor to engender a seraphic image of themselves in the imagination of the oppressed. Centring only them as capable of expressing complexity – a central aspect of being human. The act of dehumanization needs a parallel act of humanization in order to root its legitimacy.



Racism is disconnected from the body. Complicity then is about the pleasures of consumption, some purported equality in the marketplace. Previously racist-capitalism was focused directly on the black body and mind as the primary sites of violence and/or exploited labour now that that avenue is unavailable it has morphed.  Racist cultural appropriation has slipped into the daily routines of normalcy and sediment into our cultural psych. The normalcy of racist mis/appropriation has made us complicit in our continued oppression. It is important we are constantly critical of the things we consume and patronise in South Africa.

Of course SPUR is not the only one to do this, OUTsurance did it with Ashley Taylor, who can forget “All Zee flavours Mochachos” offers and retailer Woolworths has a TV advert, a tribute to Nelson Mandela, with blacks singing ‘Asimbonanga.’ BTW, I love when black people sing; I have enjoyed church songs even though I am a reluctant atheist but the imagery of black workers singing whilst an appreciative white audience enjoys specticalized blackness makes me very uncomfortable. Within the capitalist-racist context of South Africa these images continue to reinforce the ideas which sustain systematic racial inequality. When you do not reflect alternative narratives of a people you often justify their continued oppression. Anyone who buys from Spur is – even if unwittingly – complicit in this.”

Complete article here



┐ For the blue coin won’t you bring back all those colors to my dreams └

online str**ming here

“Craig Bartholomew tracks down Sixto Rodriguez, the second generation Mexican who, with his 70s album Cold Fact, radicalised South African youth. What he found was Gandhi with a guitar.

It’s five o’clock as I wait at Cape Town international airport for a man I think I know well but have never met, one Sixto Rodriguez – mythical guru and serendipitous soothsayer of the 70’s “hey man wow!” generation, and creator of the long-selling cult album, Cold Fact – A man once lost, but now found. Every time an airport announcement is made, fate’s fat fingers play an arpeggio up my spine. The simple problem is that I have no idea what to expect, especially after a death such as his. Never before has one man died so many times in as many ways, and still survived. Not to mention being blind, murdering his wife (at least twice) and all that while performing a host of other heinous crimes – in rumour at least.

What, therefore, would pass through the metal detector at customs? The Bionic man? A walking resurrection? Or simply an impostor? The personal quest that had led to this moment – as I now loiter on the terminal – all began in 1996 when, after browsing through the liner notes of the newly released “Coming from Reality” CD (originally released as After the Fact in 1974), I stumbled across the words which asked if there were “any musicology detectives out there” to find the man, dead or alive. Even though I had already been seduced by the poetry of the man with lines like “It started out with butterflies on a velvet afternoon”, it was the line, “How many times can you wake up in this comic book and still plant flowers?” that made me commit to the search. Without realising it, this line had struck a sympathetic chord with the new, yet-to-be identified, Generation X.

My first stop, naturally, was the record company. Not even they could not tell me the fate of the one artist that had never made it to the deletion bin, even after 26 years of solid sales. (Who cares when you’re coining it?). Next, I climbed into his music and scrounged between the words, searching in vain for even just one single clue, a hint, a mere trace of where the man could be hiding. Many little leads led me nowhere. In “A Most Disgusting Song”, for example, he sang of playing every kind of gig there is to play: From faggot bars to hooker bars, to motorcycle funerals, to opera houses, to concert halls and even halfway houses. He referred to a host of characters almost by name: a girl who has never been chaste; a bearded school boy with wooden eyes; a man who is shorter than himself; and even a teacher who will kiss you in French! But nowhere could I find a direct reference to a town or place that could have blown his cover. Rumour had it that Polygram did not even possess the master tapes to his music, pressing the “Coming From Reality” CD from a good vinyl copy of the album (quite audible, if you listens carefully, is the sheer proof of analogue decay – static, scratches and even a cat’s paw.)

Then, finally after a nine-month long search comprising 72 telephone calls, 45 faxes, and over 140 e-mails, I managed to trace Mike Theodore, the credited arranger of the Cold Fact album. With this breakthrough, it barely took a week before a voice on the other side of the line answered, nonchalantly, “Yes, it is I, Rodriguez, so tell me about yourself?” Then, slowly but surely, the information I had so long sought, started to trickle in. Born in Detroit, this second generation Mexican single-handedly, without even realising it, changed the way South African youth saw things by releasing his album Cold Fact in 1972 (it flopped practically everywhere else). While hippies around the world hummed “ommmm…” in yoga-like poses, the seventies youth of South Africa chose only one mantra to represent their generation, “I wonder, how many times you’ve had sex”. This was not surprising from a country where simply thinking evil thoughts led to swearing which led to smoking which led to drinking which then led to Dagga which led to hard drugs and which finally led to satanism. And before you knew it, you were dead.

Prevalent on the album, was a philosophy that decried the anomalies of social reality, and which the youth bought into whole-heartedly. It was this cynicism – parents called it ‘hate-mail on a record’ (“but don’t bother to buy insurance, because you’ve already died”), or ‘poetry concealed as vinyl’ (“the wind splashed in my face, can smell a trace of thunder”) that actually set the youth free. A simple honesty which became the axiom on which they would base their thinking. A young Mexican who sang unashamedly about drugs and life on the streets (My Estonian Archangel came and got me wasted). Ironically, the man who once sang the words, “the mayor hides the crime rate, the public forgets the vote date”, has actually run for political office on no less than seven occasions, and fathered three daughters and a son (Brian’s note: the son, Aaron, is actually his first wife’s from her second husband).

A 1972 brochure on Detroit referred to the young political candidate ‘revolutionary absurdist, a creative anarchist, and even a leftist guitarist?’ Furthermore, it states that he is legendary at “always brewing or perpetrating something”. Like his Heikki’s Bus Tour no. 2, a guided busload of Inner City wildmen who careened out to the environs to take snapshots of the natives and to communicate. Strange as it may seem, Rodriguez has recorded only 25 songs in his lifetime and had no idea he was even famous here. Finally at quarter past five – with only the mental picture of Rodriguez seated cross-legged in the pearl bubble off Cold Fact – I spot a youthful, well-built man who looks no more than 40. I am at first not sure that this is he but when I see the guitar, I know it is. Suddenly, all the words he ever sung rush before me in cool colour psychedelia. Unreal-surreal! Poetic-myopic! And as my senses rollercoaster-ride in sympathy with the part of my brain that deals with reason, a warm hand shakes mine. “Hi”, he says unassumingly. As we walk off, I realise that this is the most humble artist I have ever met.
Gandhi with guitar.
A man who, after all is said and done, would probably prefer to leave the past behind him and someone who, it transpires, has the problem that every time he opens the door to get the milk, fame tries to creep in.”

from the article In search of Rodriguez: from hooker bars to opera houses, published in The Sunday Independant, 8th March 1998

┐ Ian van Coller └

© Ian van Coller, Daisy Angy Kekae (left), from the series Collage Portraits, 2009

“This series combines several influences that have personally been relevant to my art-making process. The work grew out of my experimentation with the use of quilting techniques based on traditions from Africa and Gees Bend, Alabama as a way to tell stories and record oral histories. The manner in which individuals in these portrait collages are presented, was heavily influenced by posters from the period of resistance against apartheid in South Africa. The union posters are now iconic examples of the strong printmaking tradition that grew out of resistance and artistic movements that began in the townships, and which often created “heroic” figures out of ordinary people. The individuals portrayed in the portrait collage series are primarily female domestic and farm workers.

The collages themselves consist of a multi-layered, two-dimensional piece. I print images on Mitsumata fiber paper, which is then soaked in shellac to provide a transparency that allows me to rework both the front and back of the image. The transparency of the paper allows me to layer images on top of one another so that the final piece is essentially multidimensional.”

© Ian van Coller, from the series Memory Boards, 2000-2007 (ongoing)

“This body of work deals with the colonial legacies that have become the social and economic realities of a modern South Africa. Each piece is an exploration of how Euro-centered attitudes have affected my personal history, as well as how they helped construct notions of Africa as the “dark continent.” In an attempt to resolve these dramatically different influences on my life, and to come to terms with my place in the world, I have made very specific choices about the images, materials, and the frames. This body of work originated with the idea of  Zambian “memory boards” as a way to trace personal memory/history, as well as the social memory/ history of South Africa. The frames themselves are transformed into objects that carry content in and of themselves, rather than merely encasing a photograph. Old family snapshots or culturally significant images and texts are also inserted in the frame, expressing the tension between the African and European influences on my identity.”

© Ian van Coller, Ndonganazibovana (left) + IMbedle (right), from the series Colonized Trees, Photogravure & photo litho, 1995

more of Ian’s great body of work here

┐ Natasja Maria Fourie └

@ Natasja Maria Fourie, from I didn’t want to be your ghost

@ Natasja Maria Fourie, from I didn’t want to be your ghost

“I have an obsession with the naked portrait. The most beautiful and vulgar things are produced by the human body. The naked body raises intense psychological issues. My portrait work deals with all those complex feelings when one is stripped naked, the feelings of shame, amusement or indifference. Nakedness deals with being human, with being mortal.” Fourie’s work revolves around how we share our lives and bodies. She is very conscious to establish where her naked portraits stands in relation to a growing tide of pornographic and voyeuristic imagery, aimed at a mostly male audience. Although much of her work employs voyeurism, Fourie has allowed her own life to be put on display through numerous self- investigations in her diary work. Fourie believes her work portrays her obsession with the relationship between the human mind and the universe, life, love, and the naked portrait and can collectively almost be seen as a poetic self-portrait.

She employs photography not to produce documentary transparency, but ambiguities … Some of these encounters are real, most are accidents and some are absolute fantasy, but at the end they are all born from the same place -the doubts and demons she carries inside herself. Most of her portrait work conveys the power of the natural surroundings that embrace both creation and ruin, while Fourie contrasts them with the force of the imagination. In her search for identity and intimacy the body becomes a compelling signifier of the lived experience.

Since 2010 Natasja Maria Fourie has had no settled place of residence but has explored and travelled with her partner and created work inspired by their love affair. Her work has been featured in various publications including GUP, Eyemazing, ART das kunstmagazin , Vice, Colors, Design Indaba and Dazed and Confused .

via Poncz blog

more of Natasja’s work here

┐ Zanele Muholi #2 └

© Zanele Muholi, Lesedi Modise, Mafikeng, North West, 2010, from the series Faces and Phases

“In the face of all the challenges our community encounters daily, I embarked on a journey of visual activism to ensure that there is black queer visibility. Faces and Phases is about our histories and the struggles that we face. Faces express the person, and Phases signify the transition from one stage of sexuality or gender expression and experience to another. Faces is also about the face-to-face confrontation between myself as the photographer/activist and the many lesbians, women and transmen I have interacted with from different places. Photographs in this series traverse spaces from Gauteng, Cape Town, Mafikeng and Botswana to Sweden.”

“I always say to people that I’m an activist before I’m an artist. To me, you take a particular photo in order for other people to take action. So you become an agent for change in a way. I say that I am a visual activist because it’s important to me to go beyond just being a photographer. Because you know, that sounds so sexy and it’s a “profession.” I think to myself what’s the point of just taking a picture? What happens after that? I’m doing what I’m doing to make a statement and also to say to people: This is possible.”

more of the work here

┐ Alastair Whitton └

© Alastair Whitton, Untitled #6, from the series Patmos and the War at Sea, 2009

© Alastair Whitton, Untitled #10, from the series Patmos and the War at Sea, 2009

© Alastair Whitton, Untitled #37, from the series Patmos and the War at Sea, 2009

“So, on the left hand side we have this multi-layered code, drawing attention perhaps to the opacity of things, the difficulty of finding meaning. On the right hand side, by contrast, we have – a photograph! In most cases the “meaning” of the photograph is clear: it “is” an aeroplane, a soldier; sometimes the observer needs to work a little harder to read the reference, but it is ultimately clear what is depicted: a fragment of the world (a world of war, or at least a world at war). The relief for the inevitably significance-hungry viewer is great, compared with the frustration prompted by the impenetrable opacity of the left hand side. But at least two things should diminish this relief: firstly, the awareness that the photograph has been formally manipulated: even if any photograph can be taken as a scarcely-unmediated bit of access to the meaning of the world, these fragments cannot: in all their apparent iconographic simplicity they are perhaps as deceiving as the “image” on the left hand side which we know has been painstakingly and deliberately constructed with an intention to conceal. But also, that little sequence of holes should have reminded us that everything is suspectible to interpretation (or to decoding if one accepts that there is an ultimate meaning, which probably this artist does, given his proclaimed religious orientation); the bit of “reality” depicted is not artless.”

excerpt from Tim James’ review

Patmos and the War at Sea can be seen here

┐ Tjorven Bruyneel └

© Tjorven Bruyneel, Untitled, from the series I’ll be your mirror, 2010

© Tjorven Bruyneel, Untitled, from the series I’ll be your mirror, 2010

“Living in a Western society where virtually all taboos have fallen. Everything has been done, seen, admired, abhorred, nothing remains that can shock.

But are we really that free?

“I’ll be your mirror” became a social depiction of a taboo conflict that is considered as nonexistent in the artistic community. It reflects on how characters in my life experience their own bodies. Every person is linked to a cultural history, and his or her body is scarred by that. Their story carrying bodies voice the answer to my ever returning question:

Will you pose nude for me on photograph?

Come, please undress …
Let me see you,
Through your eyes.”


More of Tjorven’s work here

║ Hasan & Husain Essop ║

© Hasan & Husain Essop, Feeding Scheme, from the series Halaal Art, 2009

© Hasan & Husain Essop, Cape Town (South Africa), from the series Halaal Art, 2009

“Our work questions global and local hegemonies. We explore the influence of Western popular culture and the distorting effects it has on existing religions and cultures. Internal conflicts are expressed through performance.

Most importantly, our work originates from a history that is confined to a specific area, a faith that is universally shared and a critical understanding of the media and modern technology.

As twin brothers we share an identity, a personality and a family. This unique bond that we share enables us to confront and address similarities and differences within a personal and a global context and open up debate around religious, cultural and social correspondences and conflicts.’ (August 2008)

On using their own image in their works: ‘This is our experience. We don’t want to make an objective statement. We don’t want to put words in other people’s mouths. This is how we see the clash between east and west, which exists simultaneously in our bodies. It’s our struggle’. (Hasan Essop, in conversation with Yazeed Kamaldien)”

More of Hasan & Hussain’s work can be seen here

║ Lien Botha ║

© Lien Botha, Inside the House the Mother did not Build, from the series White Stick for the Artic, 2008

© Lien Botha, Border Crossing, from the series White Stick for the Artic, 2008

“In the series, White stick for the Arctic, the female body — which one assumes is her own — is masked in each image. Sometimes it has the head of an animal, sometimes it is covered with a lace cloth (or shroud?).
This enigmatic figure is placed in otherworldly landscapes caught between the states of dreaming and waking. The narratives of each piece are unfathomable, but intriguing.
Environmental degradation, loss of the individual and the passage of time are threads which link them in a strange, melancholic universe, which harks back to the unexpected juxtapositions of surrealist artists.
If photos could wail, these would do it.”
Carol Brown

To see more of Lien’s work click here

║ Mikhael Subotzky (South Africa – part V) ║

© Mikhael Subotzky, The Mallies Family, Rustdene Township, Beaufort West, 2006
© Mikhael Subotzky, Residents, Vaalkoppies (Beaufort West Rubbish Dump), 2006

to view more of his work click here

║ David Goldblatt (South Africa – part IV) ║

© David Goldblatt, Interior of the foreman’s house, Sonop, Winburg, Free State, 24 August 1986
Intersections Intersected series
© David Goldblatt, Galvanised ironware for sale, Strubensvalley, Johannesburg, 8 May 2004
Intersections Intersected series

to view more about this work click here

║ Zanele Muholi (South Africa – part III) ║

© Zanele Muholi, Being series, 2007
© Zanele Muholi, Being series, 2007

to view more about this work click here

║ Pieter Hugo (South Africa – part II) ║

© Pieter Hugo, Rose Brand’s doll collection, 2006
Messina/Musina series
© Pieter Hugo, Jan, Martie, Kayala, Florence and Basil Meyer in their home, 2006
Messina/Musina series
“Musina is the northern-most town in South Africa. It lies on the Limpopo River on the border of Zimbabwe. The town was formerly known as Messina, and in 2002 its name was changed to correct a colonial misspelling of the name of the Musina people who previously lived in the region.Located in the heart of the bushveld with its hunting farms and diamond mine, on the major trucking route north, it attracts a conglomeration of disparate peoples. They are drawn to this town by the opportunities it offers, be it working in the mines or on the farms, policing the porous border, smuggling contraband and alien immigrants, or prostitution.In his photographs of individuals, families, interiors, landscapes and incidental details, Hugo reflects on the wounds and scars of race, class and nationality that persist here, on the border of Zimbabwe, a country in the process of self-destructing. The circumstances of Musina can also be seen as broadly reflective of any community that is confronted by transition.”

to view full series click here

to read an interview about this work click here

║ Guy Tillim (South Africa – part I) ║

© Guy Tillim, Noverna Court, Paul Nel Street, Hillbrow, 2004
© Guy Tillim, Nomasanto’s room, Jeanwell House, Nugget Street, 2004
Jo’burg series

White residents fled Johannesburg’s inner city in the 1990s. The removal of the Group Areas Act foreshadowed a flow into the city of black residents and owners of small businesses seeking opportunities and better lives. Former denizens looked back in self-righteous justification at a city that was given over to plunder and mayhem. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, backed up by eyewitness reports and statistics. Everyone had their horror stories. (…)

The relationship between tenants and owners or their agents deteriorated with disputes over the state of the buildings, and in some cases resulted in unpaid rents and dues. The buildings started looking like fire hazards, and the City Council began closing on them for unpaid utilities.In between the needs of City Council and the aspirations of developers anticipating the bloom of an African city lies the fate of Jo’burg’s residents. The outcome will decide whether or not Johannesburg becomes, again, a city of exclusion.

Guy Tillim