Afrika(n) Burn(t)

Afrika(n) Burn(t) is a constructed image that juxtaposes the mindlessness and indifference of the (so called) ‘Burn’ culture with the urgency and brutality of a more relevant, but typically ignored African reality. All of the individual pictures used in this composite was sourced and is freely available on the internet. The seemingly contentious component is however of a self-proclaimed nudist and performance artist.

The image was first shared on the Space Invader facebook page at the beginning of June, but after less than 24 hours the post was removed. It was brought to our attention that exposed nipples would cause this to happen and we duly adjusted the image with the offensive nipples safely hidden behind the face of MZ. But much to our consternation, this image was also removed and we would probably have let it go at that if some functionary in the employ of the ‘Burn’ did not have the temerity to ‘kindly request’ that the Xcollektiv that shared our image remove it from their blog. At the same time there were a few typically disingenuous comments made on the blog by ‘Burn’ acolytes about the image. In response, we have developed a third version of Afrika(n) Burn(t) for your viewing pleasure…

All characters and events depicted here - even those based on reality - are entirely constructed. All images of celebrities are appropriated from the public domain. Due to the harsh realities and unsettling content, this image should not be viewed by mental midgets.

All characters and events depicted here – even those based on reality – are entirely constructed. All images of “celebrities” are appropriated from the public domain. Due to the harsh realities and unsettling content, this image should not be viewed by mental midgets. (No. 3 of 3)

Afrika(n) Burn(t) is an annual occurrence for mostly white pseudo-creatives and wannabe hipsters and hippies who gather for a week of drug-and-alcohol fuelled debauchery and excess. This rip-off event that celebrates a mindless pop-culture and charges exorbitant prices to be part of a “gift-based economic experiment” that is nevertheless embedded in American consumer culture and populated by members of the upper middle class who find no fault with their roles in the commercialization of a festival whose ethos is claimed to be the exact opposite.

On their website, there is a statement about this year’s theme where participants were asked “to contemplate the gift” and then in the very next sentence of the blurb, one of the co-founders goes on to quote none other than Karl Marx in an arrogant twist of logic that reduces the words of an esteemed socialist philosopher to a subjective affirmation of a self-indulgent and elitist community that is open only to those who can afford it.

In a recent critique, it was revealed that after eight years AfrikaBurn still has an all-white membership, directorship and staff: a true symbol of “a society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society.”

It is safe to say that other than the appropriation of the iconography that has resulted in its logo, there is nothing that is remotely African about this week-long, self-indulgent camping trip that takes place in an area of the Karoo that is plagued by chronic under development, poverty, unemployment, illness and inequality. In other words, the South Africa that none of these ‘burners’ reside in.

Black artists are ‘organically included’ which is a term meant to couch a broader exclusion; the symbol for the outreach project is two cupped (black) hands raised around the brand logo; the all-whiteness; the baasskap; the madam-gedagtes: the one week of gifting that is meant to compensate for an inherited privilege and the culture of self-aggrandizement and self-indulgence that is otherwise the order of the day.

Sadly, it is this kind of disingenuous posturing that tacitly condones the inherently patronizing denialism, prejudice, inequality and injustice that continues to define contemporary society.

This “experiment in inclusive community building, decommodification, creativity, self-reliance and radical self-expression” is based on the same set of guiding principles that informed the establishment of the Burning Man festival in the USA, with the inclusion of yet another appropriation. “Each one teach one” is also a term that originated in America… during slavery. In the 80’s the Congress of South African Students adopted the slogan as its motto and now this bunch of flaky attention-junkies have made it their own…

But I would suggest that their ‘eleventh ideal’ should in fact be ‘each one eat one!’
“And fuck you if you can’t get over Apartheid you racist non-white!”

(NB! The original accompanying image was censored by Facebook and we thought it would be appropriate to use an image of the tit to cover the nipples.)


Afrika(n) Burn(t) & arbitrary censorship

In 2012, the painting entitled The Spear caused a heated debate in South African art circles when the ANC government attempted to have the image of the president with his genitalia exposed removed from the walls of the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg by invoking the powers of the Film and Publication Board to effectively ban the artwork. The Goodman Gallery however opposed their decision and the Appeal Tribunal ultimately agreed that “the FPB attempted to use a section of the act governing its work aimed at protecting children to “vindicate the right to dignity of those who were affronted by the painting”. However, the important aspect to note here is that the use of the president’s image was not the issue, but rather his exposed penis which according to the prudish ANC rhetoric, was basically pornographic.
Recently the Xcollektiv has found itself embroiled in a similar furore over a constructed image produced by Space Invader which was shared on both our Facebook page as well as our blog, that draws a parallel between the pervading frivolity of pop culture (represented by Afrika Burn {and based upon a recent independent critique}) and the harsh realities of being African (represented by an image of a burning victim of Afro-xenophobia surrounded by members of SAPS. In the foreground of our fabricated image a topless woman and man stand smiling with apples in their hands performing publicly at Afrika Burn; this was superimposed into the image containing the xenophobic victim. Initially we received communication from Afrika Burn who claimed to be acting to “protect the privacy” of one of their members, but eventually, the woman Lara Kirsten contacted us and ‘asked’ us to remove the image and apologize to her. We didn’t agree with such arbitrarily imposed censorship because as a public artist who uses her nude body in her work and also as a self proclaimed nudist with her pictures freely and easily accessed via her blog as well as via Google image search, Lara Kirsten cannot in any way claim that “It is an ill-informed use of my image and alongside the content of the blog misrepresents and distorts my character and image.” Our decision was based on the fact that the work we titled Afrika(n) Burn(t) was quite obviously a fabricated image. Neither the Space Invaders nor the xcollektiv was willing to bow to the ‘requests’ that we gag ourselves and as a result, the images were deleted by Facebook as well as WordPress after vitriolic comments posted to our blog by ‘Burn’ acolytes. To date this has not been resolved.
Our working model is “derived from outside art in current assaults on corporate branding–whether they be called “culture jamming,” “image defiling,” or “adbusting.”
This often Web-based, loosely interconnected community of cultural producers pursues anticorporate, antiglobalist, antiwar agendas by drawing on the traditions of agitprop graphics and Situationist detournement. Such media tacticians and image saboteurs playfully yet aggressively make visible the strategies of seduction and manipulation by which corporations attack the very basis of individual subjectivity. In so doing, they supposedly subvert the media-saturated environment via its own means.” (Tom Holert Performing the system)
Appropriation of images and the parody and the pastiche of other artists work is common place and yet our simple critique of Afrika Burn resulted in this arbitrarily imposed censorship.
This opposes our constitutional right to freedom of expression and unfortunately when one is a public performance artist one has to accept the inevitable criticism and critique that goes hand-in-hand with ‘putting oneself out there’.
Section 16 of the Constitution states:
• Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes
(a) freedom of the press and other media;
(b) freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
(c) freedom of artistic creativity; and
(d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
• The right in subsection (1) does not extend to
(a) propaganda for war;
(b) incitement of imminent violence; or
(c) advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity,
gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
So legally and morally, between them, Afrika Burn and Lara Kirsten do not have a leg to stand on, but as William Kentridge said in response to the attempt by the ruling party to ban The Spear: “The shock is in the metaphor!”


About xcollektiv

In an age where the function of art as a statement and act of resistance is arguably more necessary than ever before, the role of the artist as activist and revolutionary is of vital importance if we are to retain any hope of significant social change. The Xcollective is a creative incubator for collaborative multi-disciplinary projects by visual-artists, writers, filmmakers and performers who are exploring issues of dispossession, trauma, memory and resistance through their work. Our aim is to facilitate and initiate projects that pose questions and draws attention to issues and to connect with ordinary lives through public creative processes. Our intention is to weave an 'in-cooperative' expression that will be comprised of and will infiltrate different media spaces: to reach neglected audiences, and build community and agency around issues of individual and collective importance. The Xcollective's processes are exploratory, (R)-evolutionary, multi-and-inter-disciplinary; and informed by a fomenting creative multilogue. The Xcollective aims to promote the joint ownership of the humanness of community through its participatory creative expression.
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4 Responses to Afrika(n) Burn(t)

  1. xcollektiv says:

    Thank you so much for the insightful comment. It is good to know that someone with such obviously superior insights and intellect actually checks out our blog.

  2. xcollektiv says:

    The image of the partially nude people was found in the public domain and I am sure google did not ask for their consent either… However if you have their contact details we will be sure to follow up…

    • siobhankowalik says:

      Certainly. The woman in the image is Lara Kirsten and though the man’s face is harder to see, he looks a lot like Jai’prakash Sewram. They are both on Facebook and I think if I have identified them correctly, they would appreciate being asked about their images being used in this way. I sincerely hope you don’t use the integrity of a google image search as a moral measuring stick for intellectual property in the future.

      • Nude images of both of them can be found on their very own and very public blogs. Lara Kirsten is a public(figure) artist who uses her body as an artwork. She also describes herself within the Africa Burn context as a reveller. The work is a comment using art appropriation. Surely this is an accepted practice within art? The collective has a critical take on the burn and it seems as if this is an attempt at censorship.

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