Peter van Heerden at the KZNSA
by Francesca Verga
Peter van Heerden's performance 'Bok' challenges notions of Afrikaner masculinity in present day South Africa. The place of the Afrikaner male in society's hierarchy has shifted since the demise of apartheid, rendering the 'Boer' male marginal.
Van Heerden's investigation into masculinity and identity is explored through his cathartic portrayal of these ideas. Re-enactments of assassinations and executions of Boer warriors by British Soldiers during the Anglo Boer War provide an historical framework for this exploration. The harrowing performance played out in Bulwer Park, adjacent to the KZNSA Gallery, allowed van Heerden to create a site-specific environment in which to operate. The installation setup included video projections and sound installations of executions and assassinations, pieces of raw meat, a live goat and the old national flag.
The opening scene sees a naked van Heerden on a chair, feet bound, with executioner (Andre Laubscher) hovering nearby, weapon in hand. The mock-execution is brutal, silencing the audience. Emotions range from uncertainty to disbelief and one's acknowledgement of and voyeuristic participation in these acts proves quite disturbing.
Now 'dead', Van Heerden is physically buried under a mass of soil by his executioner. A dramatic resurrection from the grave sees him explore three personae, typifying recognisable characters in everyday life - 'the White', 'the Black' and 'the Vrou'. In an attempt to subvert culturally specific associations, van Heerden, provides the audience with an insight into their perception and placing in contemporary society. The different personae are explored through the smearing of mud (the Black), a constructed steel under-coat for the female persona and the wrapping of the British flag for the colonialist 'white'. The subversion and depiction of different cultural histories are incorporated, allowing for some humour in the mostly abject performance.
It is the artist's honest portrayal of his subject matter and the capability with which van Heerden performs that makes for such a compelling piece. Van Heerden is direct and vivid in his approach, presenting the grotesque and disturbing parts of our history in which we would prefer not to engage. The abject nature of 'Bok', coupled with van Heerden's casting-off and discarding provide a cathartic and purgative release of his forefathers' sins.
Performances: February 24, 25 and 26, 2006
The KZNSA Gallery
166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, Durban
Tel: (031) 202 3686
Fax: (031) 201 8051
Hours: Tue - Fri 10am - 5pm, Sat - Sun 10am - 4pm