Hentie van der Merwe (b. 1972) is based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Produced during a six month residency in the Bijlmer district, southeast of Amsterdam, these vibrant portraits reflect on the social, historical, architectural and economic aspects of the area.
From ArtThrob’s Art Bio by Kathryn Smith, March 2000:
Hentie van der Merwe is acutely aware of his identity as a young, white, gay man in post-apartheid South Africa. Minimal but not minimalist, his unmistakably measured, often gridded style is informed by a pared down aesthetic. Currently, he is working exclusively in photography, although the medium has always found its way into his production at some level. Fascinated with how we ‘negotiate’ and record the world through the camera’s eye, he often raids archives for source material and inspiration. His early work adopted the ‘material as meaning’ maxim quite closely through embroidery on raw calico, pin-and-thread ‘drawing’ in the style of mapmakers, and subtle, sometimes imperceptible ‘wounding’ through pin pricks. Stitching repairs and rejoins, and embroidery enhances, but they also scar.
Several basic themes permeate his production, indicated by iconic images and objects, including swimming pools (empty and full, indicating the simultaneous abundances of loss and mourning, pleasure and comfort in gay desire), sewing machines, militaria and archival imagery. Sexual and identity politics; masculinity and violence; and his poignant and intelligent confrontation with issues around gay identity in the face of the AIDS pandemic are quintessential Van der Merwe concerns.
“‘Trappings’ is my second solo exhibition and consists of a series of photographic works completed over the last twelve months. In it, I continue to explore themes that have been prevalent in my work for some time. The most prominent: the exploration of notions of masculinity – and particularly white masculinity – in a current South African context. Also, I look at how such a notion of maleness is located in a historical sense. Another theme is an exercise in ‘making sense’ of the violence that is such a prominent part of our society – violence invariably committed by men. Also, how such violent acts are continuously being justified through the manufacturing of ideologies – a point once again (and excellently) illustrated in the numerous TRC testimonies some two years ago. As a result of this interest, for ‘Trappings’, I chose to focus largely on the costumes and medals housed at the Museum of Military History in Johannesburg. Through this concentration on a public site for the representation of a violent history, there is an investigation of the idea of ‘history’ and it’s various representational guises.” – Hentie van der Merwe
Hentie van der Merwe lives and has his studio in Cape Town. He is also senior lecturer at the department of Visual Arts, Stellenbosch University. He was born in Windhoek, Namibia in 1972 and studied at the University of the Witwatersrand where he obtained both his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Fine Arts.Between 2000 and 2002 he attended the Higher Institute for Fine Arts (HISK) in Antwerp and in 2001 the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, USA. He has had a number of solo exhibitions in both South Africa and Europe (Tim van Laere Gallery, Antwerp, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town and Galerie Gabriele Rivet, Cologne). He has also taken part in numerous group exhibitions both in South Africa and internationally, some of which were curated by acclaimed international curators such as Jan Hoet (My Private Heroes, MARTa Herford, Germany, 2005) and Okwui Enwezor (Snap Judgements: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography, International Center of Photography, New York, 2006). In 2002 he won the prize for best visual artist at the BIG Torino 2002 International Biennale of Young Art curated by Michelangelo Pistoletto and in 2008 the Sasol Wax Art Award in South Africa.
As Tracy Murinik writes: “At the core of much of Hentie van der Merwe’s work is the body: its power, vulnerability, sexuality, objectification; its memory and its concealment; its capacity for violence or intimacy; the body as it exists or is represented publicly and privately, symbolically and commercially. And central to his process is a rummaging through archives from which he roots out details: reflections on predominantly the masculine body, followed by the recontextualisation of that which is uncovered. Van der Merwe’s work also engages a biographical perspective: exploring his own relationship to his historical context, having grown up in an Afrikaans family in then South West Africa, and the perceptions of (assumed/prescribed) masculinity that accompanied that cultural environment.”
In my work there is an ongoing interest in the body, particularly the male body, in relation to the archive. The archive as that which defines the body, both as a political and sexual being. The archive then becomes the site where these terms by which the body gets defined are investigated, challenged, interrogated – not in order to escape these terms, but to redefine them – in the hope of opening up the possibilities for a different way of experiencing emotions and feelings, both public and private.
My current project is a collaborative project for the stage. A music-theatre work based on the remarkable exchange of letters between the Nama leader, Hendrik Witbooi, and the German Colonial Officer Theodor Leutwein at the turn of the nineteenth century in German South-West Africa. The work combines excerpts from this historical exchange with that from audio-recordings of Nama folktales from the extraordinary archive of the German folklorist Sigrid Schmidt.