Books

The Dark, Deranged World of Roger Ballen and Die Antwoord

by Allison Meier on February 12, 2014

Roger Ballen, "Bite" (2007)

Roger Ballen, “Bite” (2007) (all images courtesy Prestel and the artist unless otherwise indicated)

The dirty alchemy of photographer Roger Ballen in combination with frenetic rap-ravers Die Antwoord resulted in the video for “I Fink U Freeky” in 2012. Now a monograph distills the mix of the South African collaborators to its elements.

Roger Ballen: Die Antwoord

Roger Ballen: Die Antwoord

Roger Ballen / Die Antwoord: I Fink You Freeky, published by Prestel in the fall, cuts away the darkly buoyant dance beats of Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yolandi, leaving just the photographs from Ballen that inspired the collaboration. While in the video Ballen’s aesthetic was very much present, in the book it becomes a total, silent darkness that’s even more effective and ominously arcane, dislodged from the permissibly surreal world of music videos.

Ninja and Yolandi Visser describe encountering Ballen’s photography for the first time in the book’s introduction:

This was the first time in our lives we saw South African art that slammed so fuckin’ hard and dark. Also, the two of us have never really been able to fit into any part of South African culture. So we related heavily to the strange, alienated people in Roger Ballen’s photographs, living on the fringes of South African society.

The theatrical and psychological distortions of Ballen’s pictures fit that sort of dissociation perfectly, with their deranged scrawls, unsettling clutter straight out of a Joel-Peter Witkin tableau, and dark lines that draw your attention from one unexpected juxtaposition to the next. In an essay in the book, critic Ivor Powell writes:

Even before Die Antwoord began actively collaborating with Ballen, they appropriated an aesthetic — the textures and the proto-symbolic iconography that Ballen distilled and transmuted from his photograph explorations and travels: supercharged details of dissolution and decay, grotesqueries, denizens of the psychic underworld of the Platteland, boarding houses, and other extreme loci of human existence.

In other words, it’s perfect planned chaos. An exhibition of Ballen’s photographs, including some from the book, was just extended through July 20 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. Below are some of the images from the new monograph that show the freaky fusion between these creators on South Africa’s fringes.

Roger Ballen: Die Antwoord

Roger Ballen, “Room of the Ninja Turtles” (2003)

Roger Ballen, "She Was a Untrustable Woman" (2012)

Roger Ballen, “She Was a Untrustable Woman” (2012)

Roger Ballen: Die Antwoord

Roger Ballen: Die Antwoord

Roger Ballen: Die Antwoord

Roger Ballen: Die Antwoord

Roger Ballen, "Culmination" (2007)

Roger Ballen, “Culmination” (2007)

Roger Ballen, "Cloaked Figure" (2003)

Roger Ballen, “Cloaked Figure” (2003)

Roger Ballen, "Place of the Upside Down" (2004)

Roger Ballen, “Place of the Upside Down” (2004)

Roger Ballen at work

Roger Ballen at work

Roger Ballen, "Rendevous" (2012)

Roger Ballen, “Rendevous” (2012)

Roger Ballen / Die Antwoord: I Fink You Freeky is available on Amazon.

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