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D av id L a C hapelle

THE RAPE OF AFRICA REFLEX AMSTERDAM

D AV I D L A C H A P E L L E

THE RAPE OF AFRICA


THE RAPE OF AFRICA


Galerie Alex Daniels and Fred Torres Collaborations

Present

David LaChapelle THE RAPE OF AFRICA


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Colin Wiggins, The National Gallery, London Fantasy and truth What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?

David LaChapelle searches for beauty. He

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?

is enraptured by it, obsessed with it. He

What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

is captivated by the beauty of the human body in much the same way as those Italian

John Keats: Ode on a Grecian Urn

painters and sculptors of the Renaissance who took such delight in representing

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Fantasy - crazy and brash, bright, loud

the body. They allowed the light to shine

and

LaChapelle’s

in and illuminate the naked human

photographs have an instantly recog-

form after centuries of religious prudery

nizable look to them. His pictures evoke a

had kept it in the darkness. One of

world of excess and exuberance, populated

those artists was Sandro Botticelli, who

by beautiful people who are flawless

invented an eroticized ideal that still

and immaculate. When we look into his

holds us entranced half a millennium

compositions, we find ourselves adrift in

after his death in 1510. His Venus and

an ocean of fantasy.

Mars, now in London’s National Gallery,

glamorous.

David

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Sandro Botticelli: Detail: La Primavera, © Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

is iconic. It was painted in Florence in

the enduring myth, although anyone with

about 1485 or so. Botticelli’s Venus, the

an ounce of romance would wish it to be so.

Goddess of Love, is one of those rare

In Botticelli’s painting, Venus is dressed

beings, a beauty who no-one can remember

in a diaphanous white gown and is sitting

encountering for the first time. She seems

upright and wide awake. Her companion is

to have been in our consciousness forever.

a total contrast. Male, naked and asleep, we

According to legend, she is based upon the

identify him by his armour and the weapons

celebrated Florentine Renaissance beauty

that four little satyrs have borrowed from

Simonetta Vespucci, who was famed for

him while he dozes. He is, of course, Mars -

her looks and was the tragic victim of an

the God of War.

early death. She was also, apparently, the

War is the bringer of death, grief and

inspiration for the image of Venus in two

destruction. In Botticelli’s painting how-

other great paintings by Botticelli that are

ever, he is vanquished. Look at that floppy

now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence: the

hand. The limply dangling finger tells

Birth of Venus and La Primavera.

you all you need to know about what lies

Despite her position as a respectably

hidden beneath the drape just behind it.

married woman, Botticelli was in love with

Mars is spent. His proud lance is now a

Simonetta, so the story goes. Nobody really

plaything for the little satyrs who are about

knows if any of this is true. It’s just part of

to jolt him from his post-coital oblivion.

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The conch shell will sound a strident

We learn of endless and ancient conflicts

emerge menacingly from the direction

terms. Do as we tell you or be slaughtered.

blast and the god will suddenly wake to

that have no meaning or purpose. These

of Mars’s groin. Look and think carefully

The Romans worshipped Mars because

find himself naked and humiliated, as the

conflicts are fuelled by weapons that flood

because everything has a meaning. The jib

he was always on their side, as they

fully dressed Venus looks on with cold

in from countries that consider themselves

of the crane seems to carve out a kind of

transported their enlightened values to the

condescension. Her expression has a faint

civilized and advanced. We shudder for the

negative pyramid. The pyramids are a great

backward tribes whose lands they invaded

hint of annoyance about it, as she fixes her

victims and then we put them out of our

African monument that are here nowhere

and conquered. In David’s picture, Mars

gaze on the god who has dared to fall asleep

minds and turn back to the gossip pages.

in sight. Instead there is emptiness.

slumbers peacefully. He is surrounded by

on her. Botticelli’s message is plain. Mars

It is just so easy to fall into the belief that

David extends Botticelli’s game of contrast.

the trappings of conquest: bars of gold and

cannot keep up with Venus. He is disarmed

Africa, the Dark Continent, is incurable.

The Italian master opposes male and female,

shiny trinkets, a gilded grenade and pistol.

while she is in control. Love conquers war.

In David LaChapelle’s response to Botticelli’s

asleep and awake, naked and clothed. To

A diamond encrusted skull. And tellingly, a

painting there are three little black boys.

this, David adds another opposite: black

gilded bone.

Two of them are playing with huge guns,

and white. And in doing so he deftly changes

It is these details that speak most eloquently

grim weapons of war, the weapons of Mars,

the image’s meaning. Mars, of course, is a

of the meaning of David’s picture. Look

But we all know that it is not. Back in the

as if they are fashion accessories. To these

powerful European god.

again at the landscape behind, where the

real world, regular news reports of the child

little lads, the weapons are toys to have fun

He was worshipped in ancient Rome,

little trucks are placed. It is dry and arid.

soldiers of Africa horrify us. We read stories

with, like the tiny trucks in the background

the ultimate empire of merciless, brutal

The little trucks continue to desecrate

of kidnappings, sometimes of dozens

that are placed in an arid landscape.

conquest. With the complicity of Mars,

it. The life that was once there, the trees,

of children at a time. They are drugged

These little toy trucks echo the huge

the Romans brought peace and civilization

the grass, the animals and the people,

and then forced to murder and mutilate.

mechanical earth-mover that appears to

to barbarians: but only on their own

have been scoured away from the surface

If only this were true.

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Sandro Botticelli: C. 1484, Venus and Mars Š The National Gallery, London.

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of a once beautiful world in a relentless

is all just a game after all. On the left sits

search for treasure. This search has a cost.

Venus. She is black. She is loaded with

One of the most efficient methods of mining

all of those aspects of black beauty that

gold involves the use of mercury, which

white Europeans have historically found so

filters into watercourses and leaves its toxic

compelling. She is exotic, rare and aloof.

residue to destroy the lives of those who

Her jewellery, her painted nails, lavish

ingest it. Bodies are withered, children are

hairstyle and exposed breast all combine

born deformed and impaired. How ironic

to produce an image of rare fragility. She

that this poisonous metal takes its name

is a black African woman seen through

from another European god: Mercury.

European eyes and has been rendered

He is the god of commerce and profit, one

passive, tame and beautiful. In Botticelli’s

more European son who arrives in Africa in

picture, Venus is in charge but in David’s

a ruthless search for gold. Gold with which

picture the lamb and the rooster that are

to gild the bones of the vanquished.

placed beside her indicate that she is, like

As if to emphasise his physical perfection,

them, only a chattel. She has the same

Mars has a little wound on his cheek. It is

status as a piece of livestock. And a lamb,

nothing too serious and nothing that won’t

remember, is traditionally an animal of

heal. The little boy with the megaphone is

sacrifice.

wearing a footballer’s helmet: maybe this

Mars, although asleep, is still in charge

David La Chapelle: watercolor, graphite, collage on paper - 20x23 cm | 2009

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Detail: Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars

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Detail: David LaChapelle, The Rape of Africa

vast amounts of ivory to send back home.

quoted at the start of this essay, beauty and

Cleverly, the charismatic European fools

truth are the same thing – ‘that is all Ye know

the native Africans into worshipping him

on earth, and all ye need to know’ – but he

with their primitive rituals. To the Africans,

got it wrong. Ugliness exists and that is the

the white man becomes a god. Kurtz and

truth too. Just think of those child soldiers.

his fellow colonisers were motivated by

Ugliness is the opposite of beauty. Fantasy

a desire to take African riches to Europe.

is the opposite of truth. Paradoxically

In exchange, from Europe to Africa they

however, it is through his brilliant use of

here. He can snooze away happily. He

dim: we hardly notice it in contrast to the

brought what they saw as enlightenment.

beauty and fantasy that David LaChapelle

doesn’t need his weapons anymore because

painfully bright strip-lights that sear across

With that enlightenment they brought

somehow and irresistibly arrives at the

the little African boys will do his dirty work

the top of the picture. Here, it is the classical

weapons. And today, their descendants still

truth. The ugly truth.

for him. The boy with the megaphone will

European god Mars who rules things, not

bring weapons and, symbolising their own

wake him up but the god will simply look

the black African Venus. And he transports

enlightenment, they bring ‘Classic Sun:

around at his accumulated treasure and

the means of destruction to the hands of

Color safe Bleach.’ Yes, David LaChapelle is

reflect approvingly on how his weapons

innocents.

deeply concerned with beauty but he is not

bring the values of western enlightenment

David LaChapelle’s ‘Rape of Africa’ is a

blind to its flip side, ugliness. Indeed, he

By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do, The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.

to a continent where the light seems

visual equivalent of Joseph Conrad’s short

is as passionate about communicating the

permanently extinguished. The broken

novel of 1899, ‘Heart of Darkness’. There,

existence of ugliness as he is about showing

Colin Wiggins,

light bulb in the top corner is useless and

the appalling character Kurtz plunders

us beauty. For Keats, author of the lines

The National Gallery, London

Kipling; ‘The White Man’s Burden’

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THE RAPE OF AFRICA

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Wim Pijbes, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Onaangenaam comfort

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David La Chapelle: graphite on paper - 23x20 cm | 2009

Afrika is een vrouw, zoals alle continenten

publieke gebouwen. Het mooiste voorbeeld

vrouwen zijn. Afrika is vanzelfsprekend

vinden we in Amsterdam, in het timpaan

een zwarte vrouw en zo wordt ze al sinds

van het voormalige stadhuis, tegenwoordig

eeuwen verbeeld. Afrika is het rijkste

Paleis op de Dam. De Republiek der

continent, Afrika is het armste continent,

Nederlanden was in de zeventiende eeuw

het oercontinent, waar de natuur in volle

immers Europa’s leidende mogendheid en

overvloed zijn gang gaat. Afrika is overdadig,

handelsnatie waar ook de kunsten bloeiden.

overrompelend, bedwelmend en barok: bij

In het wereldbeeld van de Republiek stond

uitstek het continent van David LaChapelle.

de Amsterdamse stedenmaagd centraal.

Lange tijd was Afrika een onbekende in de

Amsterdam beschouwde zich als de stad

Westerse kunst. Hooguit werd ze verbeeld

waarnaar alle werelddelen zich richtten., In de

in de allegorische voorstellingen waar de

wereldvoorstelling, gemaakt door Quellinus

werelddelen

in

de Oude zien we de zeegoden theatraal hulde

fresco’s en beeldengroepen in meestal grote

brengen aan de Amsterdamse Stedemaagd.

verpersoonlijkt

werden

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David La Chapelle: watercolor, graphite, collage on paper - 40x23 cm | 2009

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En op de achtergevel bewijzen de vier wereld-

uitgedoste vrouw, Azie vaak in gezelschap

hoorn des overvloed die terugvoert tot de

werelddeel onderling in stukken verdeelden,

delen de stad Amsterdam hun eer. Zo is op

van een olifant en na de ontdekking van

tijd van Hadrianus toen Carthago een van

werd de basis gelegd voor de roof van Afrika.

dit centrale monument van onze Gouden

Amerika, het vierde werelddeel, een vrouw

graanschuren van Rome was.

Het moge

Haar lot ligt sinds ‘Berlijn’ in Westerse

Eeuw het toenmalige wereldbeeld vereeuwigd.

met veren getooid. Telkens keert een aantal

duidelijk zijn, Afrika stond voor barokke

handen. Gaandeweg werden de natuurlijke

Christendom, handel en zwaard gaan samen.

motieven terug: Europa, of meer specifiek

overdaad. Maar feitelijk was Afrika tot ver

hulpbronnen, aanvankelijk ook de mensen

Stroomgoden op de voorgrond stellen IJ en

een land of stad, wordt gepersonifieerd als

in de negentiende eeuw het onbekende

zelf,

Amstel voor. Azië biedt juwelen en zijde aan,

vrouw, met klassieke trekken, in Romeins

werelddeel. Op enkele handelsposten aan de

continent onttrokken ter meerdere glorie

Afrika ivoor en Arabië doek, in geknielde,

gewaad en met een kroon. Zij domineert de

kust en gebieden aan de Kaap na, was het hele

van het Westen.

vragende houding. Met hun handelswaar

voorstelling. De werelddelen knielen voor

enorme binnenland een ondoordringbaar

werden de continenten en dus ook Afrika,

haar troon, zijn veelal vanaf de rug te zien

geheel wat pas met avonturiers als Stanley

Nu naar David LaChapelle. We zien een

afgebeeld als figuranten in een eurocentrisch

en qua gelaatsuitdrukking niet ‘klassiek’

werd geopend. Zijn beroemde reisverslag

wakkere Afrika, een verleidelijk mooie zwarte

wereldbeeld, gezien en gedomineerd vanuit

afgebeeld, maar achtelozer van stijl. In deze

‘Throught the Dark Continent’ (1878)

vrouw, geheel in de beeldtraditie die hiervoor

Europa. In het toonaangevende werk van

Europese beeldtraditie werd Azië afgebeeld

schonk enig licht in deze lange duisternis. In

in het kort geschetst werd. De titel ‘The Rape

Cesare Ripa, de Iconologia van eind zestiende

als een vrouw in een sierlijk gewaad versierd

de deling van Afrika, het grote landenspel dat

of Africa’ is echter een noviteit in de kunst.

eeuw, kreeg deze beeldtaal verder vorm.

met goud, parels en andere edelstenen en

plaatsvond in Berlijn tussen 15 november

We kennen wel de ‘Rape of Europe’ van

Europa werd voorgesteld als een vrouw met

Afrika werd vaak vergezeld door exotische

1884 en 26 februari 1885, waar de Europese

bijvoorbeeld Rembrandt of Botero en tal van

kroon en scepter, Afrika als een exotisch

dieren als een leeuw, schorpioen en een

machthebbers de kaart van het ongerepte

andere kunstenaars die dit klassieke thema

systematisch

aan

het

vruchtbare

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David La Chapelle: watercolor, graphite, collage on paper - 23x20 cm | 2009

uit Ovidius’ ‘Metamorphosen’ verbeelden.

Deze Afrika zit ongenaakbaar en bevindt

Een ‘Rape of Africa’ bestaat echter niet.

zich in een voorstelling, waarvan ze geen deel

Waar de roof van Europa een mythologisch

lijkt uit te maken. Haar onbewogen afwezig-

verhaal is, betekent de roof van Afrika eerder

heid is niet apathisch, eerder souverein.

een waar gebeurd drama dat opvallend

De kleurrijke overdadige ‘pop baroque’

genoeg nooit tot inspiratie van kunstenaars

van David LaChapelle leent zich bij uitstek

heeft geleid. Daar is met dit werk van

voor deze dramatische vertelling. Allerlei

David LaChapelle nu op drastische wijze een

tegenstellingen op verschillende niveaus

eind aan gemaakt. Gebaseerd op Botticelli’s

eisen tegelijk de aandacht; gekunstelde

‘Venus en Mars’, lijkt de verbeelding van

esthetiek naast natuurlijke schoonheid, rust

LaChapelle een cynisch commentaar op de

en beweging, lawaai en stilte, comfort en

wereldgeschiedenis. Een voldaan slapende

ongemak, oorspronkelijkheid en citaat. In

Mars (Europa?) omringd door rijkdom (met

‘The Rape of Africa’ toont LaChapelle ons op

zelfs een verwijzing naar Damien Hirsts’ ‘For

indringende wijze, gebaseerd op een klassiek

the Love of God’) en brutale, zwaar bewapende

motief, een uiterst actueel onderwerp.

handlangers, slaapt zijn roes uit in het bijzijn

Wim Pijbes

van een afwezig kijkende zwarte Venus.

Directeur Rijksmuseum

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David La Chapelle: watercolor, graphite, collage on paper - 20x23 cm | 2009

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Published on the occasion of exhibition

The Rape of Africa Galerie Alex Daniels, Amsterdam 6 June - 31 July, 2009.

Colophon All artworks: David LaChapelle Essay by Colin Wiggins, The National Gallery, London Essay by Wim Pijbes, Director Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Sandro Botticelli: Venus and Mars © The National Gallery, London Sandro Botticelli: La Primavera, The Birth of Venus, © Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY. Exhibition curated by Alex Daniels and Fred Torres Curatorial assistance Patrick Toolan Book and cover design Alex Daniels, Reflex Editions, Amsterdam, 2009, all rights reserved. Image “The Rape of Africa” courtesy of David LaChapelle, Galerie Alex Daniels and Fred Torres Collaborations Edition: 3000 Print: Meco Offset, The Netherlands Printed and Bound in The Netherlands This is an edition of 3000 of which 250 are numbered and signed by the artist. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without prior written permission from the copyright holders. ISBN/EAN: 9789071848070

Weteringschans 83 1017 RZ Amsterdam Openingstijden di t/m za 11.00 - 18.00 uur. Tel. 020 - 627 28 32 / 020 - 423 54 23 info@reflexamsterdam.com www.reflexamsterdam.com

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Published on the occasion of exhibition

The Rape of Africa Galerie Alex Daniels, Amsterdam 6 June - 31 July, 2009 David Desanctis Gallery, Los Angeles 12 September - 31 October, 2009.

Colophon All artworks: David LaChapelle Essay by Colin Wiggins, The National Gallery, London Essay by Wim Pijbes, Director Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Sandro Botticelli: Venus and Mars © The National Gallery, London Sandro Botticelli: La Primavera, The Birth of Venus, © Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY. Exhibition curated by Alex Daniels and Fred Torres Curatorial assistance Patrick Toolan Book and cover design Alex Daniels, Reflex Editions, Amsterdam, 2009, all rights reserved. Image “The Rape of Africa” courtesy of David LaChapelle, Galerie Alex Daniels and Fred Torres Collaborations Edition: 3000 Print: Meco Offset, The Netherlands Printed and Bound in The Netherlands This is an edition of 3000 of which 250 are numbered and signed by the artist. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without prior written permission from the copyright holders. ISBN/EAN: 9789071848070

David DeSanctis Gallery

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Weteringschans 83 1017 RZ Amsterdam

314 N. Crescent Heights Blvd.

Openingstijden di t/m za 11.00 - 18.00 uur.

Los Angeles, CA 90048

Tel. 020 - 627 28 32 / 020 - 423 54 23

phone 323.782.9404 / fax 323.782.9407

info@reflexamsterdam.com

www.desanctisgallery.com

www.reflexamsterdam.com

info@desanctisgallery.com


DAVID LACHAPELLE – THE RAPE OF AFRICA