Roelof Petrus Van Wyk’s graphic photographic portraits of a new Afrikaner generation are intended as a ‘single artwork’ that edge towards a new 21st century identity for the white Dutch-speaking and former ruling South African minority.
Roelof Van Wyk was brought up in the rural and traditional Afrikaner heartland of the Free State. In 1990, after the first referendum on engaging ‘with the other’, Van Wyk was one of a growing number of Afrikaners who found himself engaging quite differently from the prescribed identity he had grown up with.
Where I grew up was a small Afrikaner conservative community. My mother’s a church organist. It’s religious, it’s conservative, it’s racist, it’s the apartheid system.
Historically, 20 years ago or even before, part of the apartheid propaganda was that we, the Afrikaner, were the chosen folk as in the bible. So religion underlaid it very very strongly. You weren’t allowed to think for yourself. You weren’t trusted to think for yourself. Television only arrived late in this country because they were afraid that we would get other world views.
I was born in 69, so I was 19, just left school, first year of university, kind of finding my space. In 1990 there was the first referendum – only white people – you had to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – should we engage with the other? 65% said ‘yes’. It’s at that point already that I started identifying quite differently from the prescribed identity and I realised that I wasn’t the only one. Around me there were all these other people. And now, 20 years later, this project is documenting how far we’ve come or how much we’ve changed or who are we now as Afrikaners, 20 years after that 1990 watershed.
Apartheid photography, apart from David Goldblatt, most of the time was photography of violence of black people. The photography in the apartheid era of white people was all these neat, perfect world portraiture. And then comes 1989 – that’s a global watershed, the same in this country – when for the first time young Afrikaner kids like me started resisting the system. Music was the first of that, to start expressing itself. From the inside, obviously, the system has started to crumble and these kids – us – took that on and started creating and expressing ourselves around that.
I kind of started photographing friends and realised that here’s something very strong that I can develop into a full project because the whole body of work is a single project, a single art work. It is a monument. So in this process I started understanding where we are and what we’re doing as Afrikaner, as a group. And that’s interesting because I started being able to outline an Afrikaner identity now of where we’re at.
Yo-Landi Vi$$er … one half of Die Antwoord. Yo-Landi is the daughter of a preacher-man. Parents conservative, Afrikans … as a teenager already she was a bit difficult, but finally with Die Antwoord, let’s talk about that, she found her voice. So there’s a white female taking rap, making it her voice and then doing it in Afrikans language which again is a take down from Dutch which is the major language and then Afrikans is the language in a minor key.
That whole notion of a chosen folk has been broken up. We are not chosen, we are South Africans and we’re part of Africa and we’re exploring what that identity means. I’m talking about a very specific sub-group within the bigger Afrikaner group. But what the big group is forced to do is to question themselves. Why they are here? The one big question is why are you here?, Why do you stay? Why don’t you leave? If you are here and you are staying, then how do you engage, how do you become African?
I wanted to create a body of work that is a monument to now. What is that? Where am I? Why am I here? What is my position right now in this place geographically? In this place ideologically? Politically? Who the fuck am I?