Anton Kannemeyer: Fear of a Black Planet

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I clearly remember the first time I picked up the underground

Since then Kannemeyer has been invited to every major

magazine Bitterkomix. It was issue #4, with an image of a grim,

European comic festival, and the success of the Big Bad

wicked-looking priest spraying a helpless little devil with a can of

Bitterkomix Handbook (2006) is a clear indication of the impact

Doom. I was amused and intrigued, but after I’d read the whole

he and Botes have had on South African graphic design. Their

outrageous thing cover to cover, I was on fire. If, like me, you came

stylistic influence is visible everywhere from book cover design

from a conventional Afrikaans background, Bitterkomix was the

to the skateboard art of a younger generation. But like Botes,

intoxicating taste of forbidden fruit. Who were these people, I

Kannemeyer has also made the transition to ‘fine art’, with his

wanted to know, and how was this allowed to happen?

first New York solo exhibition in April 2008. Does this make him ‘the most indie of the sell-outs’, as Peter Bagge jokingly called his

Seven years later, in Berlin, I finally met Anton Kannemeyer, aka

comic series Hate after it had made him quite famous?

Joe Dog, the notorious shit-stirrer who started Bitterkomix with Conrad Botes in 1992. I had expected someone quite scary – a

One of the first artworks encountered by visitors to Kannemeyer’s

punk, ‘a street-walking cheetah with a head full of napalm’, as

exhibition is a sketch in which a spear-toting Zulu warrior, quoting

Iggy Pop put it in Search and Destroy, but Kannemeyer came

Pablo Picasso, says to his opponent: ‘No, painting was not invented

across more like David Byrne of Talking Heads. I was charmed by

to decorate houses. It’s an instrument of war for attack and defense

his vulnerability, his naughty, nervous laugh and the thoughtful

against the enemy.’ This drawing would seem to tell us that, while

hesitation with which he spoke. His incendiary responses to the

some things have certainly changed since our first meeting, the

world around him clearly belied his own deep ambivalence and

now quite famous Kannemeyer is still the same bookish punk who


started Bitterkomix, fighting fire with fire, bile and satire.


Danie Marais: The title of your exhibition, Fear of a Black

Pistols is that they were so eclectic. Hagen would mess around

Planet, refers to the classic 1990 hip-hop album by Public

with opera, and the Pistols would appropriate anything from

Enemy. Did the title simply seem appropriate to your work

God Save the Queen to Frank Sinatra’s My Way and turn it into

or is there something specific in the music that you wanted

something subversive.

to refer to? After the Pistols, punk moved in two directions: one experimented Anton Kannemeyer: Well, I’ve never liked the album that much

with sounds and music, and the other with concepts and ideas.

as a whole, but yes, it has a great title which slots in well with my

I’m more interested in the latter. That’s why I’ve always followed

work. Actually, I think NWA’s Straight out of Compton is a much

Jello Biafra’s career from the early Dead Kennedys to his later

better hip-hop album, and if only that was called Fear of a Black

projects. He also collaborated with hip-hop groups. The anarchic

Planet it would’ve been the perfect marriage!

and subversive elements in punk are very similar to a lot of the work I did prior to this exhibition, especially with Bitterkomix.

In the earlier days of hip-hop, groups like Public Enemy and NWA had a real punk attitude and they addressed very valid

From the beginning punk mocked the art establishment and

issues regarding racism. I loved the fact that groups of black

any form of bourgeois artistic ambition. It was forever poking

people in America tackled the issues around them. And I think

fun at anything with pretensions to being monumental and

we need more black artists in South Africa to make challenging

classical. Isn’t that also an important element of your work?

satirical work. For sure. A case in point is the painting in which a white prisoner But this exhibition functions as a whole and it’s not necessary to

is being sodomised by a black inmate who says: ‘Jan van der

be familiar with Public Enemy’s album. If you take all the smaller

Merwe!? Well, how do you like that for a coincidence? He was

bits and pieces, like Boy Soldiers and other drawings from my

my lawyer too.’ As far as I’m concerned it’s a hilarious joke and

sketchbook, and read them with the larger, more satirical works,

to make a 1.5 x 1.5 metre painting of it is, well, even more of a

you get a bigger, more coherent picture. That doesn’t mean

joke, because it will probably never be regarded as high art.

this is a recipe I follow – it’s simply a reflection of my creative

Nevertheless, I do it because, what the hell, it simply has more

process which always starts in my drawing books where I collect

raw impact at that size.

newspaper clippings, ideas, impressions and diary entries together with impromptu sketches.

So you are also mocking certain ideas about high art.

Punk has always played an important role in your aesthetic.

Definitely the traditional notion of fine art. But it’s not the fact

You’ve often been called a Boere-punk by the press. What is it

that I make large paintings, it’s the fact that they are outrageous.

about punk music that influences your work?

I know high art is supposed to be progressive and whatever, but the thing is … You know, when I’m in New York I visit various

When I was still at school I listened to the Sex Pistols, Nina Hagen,

galleries and I very seldom see work that really grabs me or hits

The Clash, etc, and I found it very liberating, but I hadn’t really

me like a fist between the eyes. You find a lot of safe work which

figured out then why the feel of it appealed to me so much.

sells very well. I admire people who create jarring stuff, someone

The one thing I really admire about Nina Hagen and the Sex

like Raymond Pettibon, who doesn’t play it safe.


Doesn’t the fact that you’ve reworked a number of images

to be devil-may-care about it. Which removes the work from that

for this exhibition also put a question mark behind the idea

immediate impulsive reaction to the world around you. And in

of the grand and complete artwork which is created in a flash

that sense the work is closer to Jello Biafra and political punk.

of divine inspiration? Are you saying, ‘Look, they’re all works in progress’?

But I’m certainly not a moralist or a spokesperson for Africa or anything like that. I still approach my work from a very personal,

I certainly don’t think that once a work has been made it stands

idiosyncratic point of view. I’ve often been classified as a satirist

there as some kind of untouchable icon or fetish object. For me it

and to a certain extent I see myself as one. But once you start

is actually always work in progress. I’m always moving backwards

dissecting what exactly satirists do, you’ll find that there is often

and forwards in an attempt to resolve images entirely.

a bit of a moral high ground behind the satirical attack. I mean, if you criticise something it’s because you think there’s something

There are two aspects to the work: one is conceptual and that is

wrong with it. And if you think there’s something wrong with it,

often resolved with the first attempt, but then there’s the formal

you have a moral position. I’m definitely not on a moral high

aspect which is probably what I struggle with most because

horse, I’m still … human [laughs] – if you look at environmental

I’ve made the switch from illustration and comic art to fine art

issues, for instance, we’re all complicit.

only recently. I work on a much larger scale now and that does complicate matters. Once a piece is on an exhibition or once it

But with certain issues, especially in Africa, what’s happening

gets published you immediately see the mistakes you’ve made.

is often just so ridiculously transparent. Take the oil situation in

And you feel, oh God, I must fix this!

Angola, never mind Nigeria … What American companies are doing in Angola is just terrible, and America loves to take the

I see two different strains of punk rock. There’s a very nihilistic

moral high ground. They love to tell everybody else what they

family of punk that descends from Iggy and the Stooges

can or can’t do. But the oil from Angola is shipped directly to

which undermines any sense of morality, and then there’s

America, while Angola has to import petrol because it doesn’t

more politically aware punk like the Dead Kennedys which has

have enough fuel for its own country. It’s corrupt officials but also

a strong element of activism and moral indignation. I believe

the West once again. But anyway, I’m going on a tangent here …

these two strains represent a central tension, maybe even conflict, in your work. On the one hand you do in-your-face

The tangent doesn’t surprise me because I see a lot of moral

anarchic stuff like Iggy Pop and on the other hand you seem

outrage in this exhibition. In the South African reception of

to be a bit of a moralist who is truly outraged by the state of

your work there’s been a lot of talk about the iconoclastic

the nation and the world.

nature of your art, but the ethically concerned aspects of your work are often overlooked. Do you agree?

If I think back on some of the comics I’ve done – for instance in Bitterkomix #6 there’s one where a frustrated guy beats up his

I was certainly morally outraged years ago when I had an

girlfriend and has sex with her – I would say that’s very similar to

exhibition in Stellenbosch showing some sexually explicit work

Iggy’s Search and Destroy kind of approach. But … when you work

and complaints streamed in from the Afrikaans community.

in a gallery context everything is conceptually considered and

There were pages full of hate mail directed at me. And I was

reconsidered. To make a painting takes a lot of time, so it’s hard

quite surprised that people were up in arms about the graphic


depiction of sex in a comic, but they never took to the streets

When I grew up, white Afrikaners saw themselves as Europeans

because their sons had to go and fight in Angola or spend two

speaking a Germanic language. And now we are forced to realise

years of their lives doing military service. I mean, drawings of

that we are Africans and that our language is a creole. Those of

sex are absolutely non-threatening – they don’t hurt anyone.

us who have decided to stay have to reposition ourselves.

And apart from that it’s just lines on paper. That hypocritical condemnation of art while other bigger issues are completely

But do you need an enemy to create art?

ignored always gets my goat. Well, an enemy always turns up, so if that’s the case I’m not You became politically aware during the Voëlvry movement

worried. Look at the way big corporations operate – and George

which used rock’n’roll to protest against apartheid and

Bush should be put on trial for war crimes. As long as things in

Afrikaner hegemony. Two of the key players, Johannes

Africa stay the way they are, we will have plenty of enemies.

Kerkorrel and Koos Kombuis, were activists and moralists who struggled to find a target for their anger and a focus for

In other words, your latest work is looking at a much bigger,

their work in the confusion of post-apartheid South Africa.

global picture?

A lot of your earlier work launched scathing attacks on Afrikanerdom. Did you ever panic because your enemy more

Yes. When we started out with Bitterkomix we first had to find

or less crumbled and disappeared? Do you need a clear image

our voices and I especially worked from a very autobiographical

of the enemy to create?

perspective or point of departure, and I don’t find that necessary anymore. In the latest Bitterkomix [#15] there are some

In terms of the comics Conrad and I did, we were pretty much

autobiographical comics, but I actually find them unresolved.

on a roll and then it did sort of dry up. Subsequently our work changed, and there has definitely been a shift in the way that I

My earlier work was a very critical look at myself and the

work – from smaller work to a larger scale, and from publishing

community I come from, but I found it very liberating to move

to the gallery.

away from that. I think it also has to do with the fact that I’m not a full-time lecturer anymore and I have more time to reflect,

Venturing out into the bigger world – especially the United

travel and explore.

States, which I only started visiting in the last couple of years – going to galleries and seeing the impact that paintings can have

The Alphabet of Democracy and Cursed Paradise series seem

in terms of their size and tactile quality has inspired me a lot

to say that political correctness, independence, progress and

in relation to form. I realised there are many different ways of

democracy haven’t changed the world that much. We’re just

getting messages across. But I think the most important thing

sugar-coating the old struggles of human greed and hunger

with all the travelling is that I have very often been invited to

for power in the same way that the Cold War pretended to be

conferences and public discussions where I am the only person

about ideologies.

from Africa. This has influenced me a lot, because it motivated me to try and understand my historical position, and the role of

If you look at the history of liberalism, especially in this country,

South Africa in an African context. I started to read extensively

many white English people who regarded themselves as liberals

about the African continent.

and not responsible for the atrocities of apartheid were also the


ones who benefited most financially from the political situation.

Satire is an art form usually associated with cabaret or

I mean, in some elections the National Party had a majority of 78

cartooning, but it is not something one would expect to

percent. Does that mean only 22 percent of the white population

find in a contemporary art gallery. Do you see important

was English?

differences between the satire of political cartooning and what you’re doing?

And what is true of white English liberals in South Africa applies to most of the Western world. Liberalism, of course, has

I think you’re right, there is a long history of satire in print and

evolved and now you have political correctness, which in many

illustration and the examples of people doing this in the art

ways is not a bad thing. I think it is extremely important in our

world are few and far between. Locally Brett Murray does it very

institutions and in the workplace, because the old stereotypes

successfully though.

have to be broken down. But it also cloaks a new hypocrisy. So many things are just done for the record and for

If you’re just dealing with the current situation and the current

appearance’s sake. And unfortunately, despite appearances,

government it could limit this kind of satire. In that case what

the real world keeps on working the way it has always worked.

you’re saying could be irrelevant in five or ten years’ time. But it

From that point of view, the benefits of political correctness

all depends on the ability of the satirist, whether he or she can

seem mainly cosmetic.

produce something that will last. I refer to current affairs in the Alphabet of Democracy, but I also think it needs to address a

The word ‘democracy’ has very positive associations – it

bigger issue, which in the case of the Alphabet is usually about a

comes from the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

deeper black and white conflict.

But the images that form part of your ongoing Alphabet of Democracy series seem to say that democracy is just another

For instance, I made one which is not on show here called L is

arbitrary social order fraught with moral ambiguity and human

for Loser with an image of Marthinus van Schalkwyk. And that

absurdity. Could one perhaps read Fear of a Black Planet as a

was exhibited in America where of course nobody knew or cared

fear of true democracy on the part of the privileged?

who he was. But he’s clearly a white guy and in the context of the new South Africa the white guy is the loser. And people got that.

You’ve touched on several ideas, and I wouldn’t want to endorse

So it’s about something bigger than the actual specific person

a single reading of this exhibition. But I agree with what you’re

of Kortbroek van Schalkwyk. And in the case of L is for Legacy

saying about democracy. I’ve read a lot of things about democracy

of a Lame Duck President, well, presidents are remembered.

and of course one possible effect of true democracy would be

Mbeki has become an important historical figure. And he will be

that the biggest common denominator would determine the

remembered for not solving the Zimbabwean crisis and for his

head of state. That could be where we’re heading with Zuma.

controversial AIDS policy.

[Laughs] The privileged of the planet propagate democracy as a political cure-all, but many of the people who claim to believe

Would you say that whereas political cartooning generally

in it are actually very ambivalent about it and even afraid of true

makes a clear statement, your work is more ambiguous?

democracy. From the perspective of the dispossessed, democracy is not real, it’s smoke and mirrors. The rich are still getting richer

Yes, yes, exactly. The difference between my work and Zapiro’s

and the poor poorer.

work – and Zapiro is definitely one of the best cartoonists in the


world – is that he mostly directly implicates specific people and

I was looking recently at the work of Bazooka – a French punk

specific situations, which means that unless you have all the

movement of the 1970s which was very closely aligned with

relevant information the cartoon might be quite indecipherable.

British punk rock – and one of the Bazooka artists, Kiki Picasso,

I think a lot of his cartoons will transcend the age in which they

would do really anarchic, gut-kicking graphic stuff. He published

were drawn, but my work is certainly more ambiguous. It is often

his small work in various magazines, but as a joke the captions

about white fear and that’s not specific to South Africa only.

would claim that the pieces were enormous and purchased by

You might think it’s all about racist white South Africans, but

famous museums like the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan

the moment you take this work to sophisticated European and

in New York. I took Kiki’s joke and actually made big paintings of

American audiences, you see exactly the same reactions.

small, outrageous drawings.

L is for Legacy of a Lame Duck President and Z is for Zuma

So yes, size does matter and I think Black Gynaecologist is a work

are compelling images even if you ignore the text or are

you can’t ignore anymore.

unfamiliar with the context, in the same way that certain paintings in the National Portrait Gallery in London are arresting. Is that your intention? Yes, and what you’re getting at is something that is more formal than conceptual. With the etching Z is for Zuma I went to a lot of trouble with even a second plate of coloured aquatint to give the face warmth. A lot of consideration went into the framing of his face too: I wanted to create the impression that Zuma’s huge head was uncomfortably stuck in a box. I found the piece very difficult to resolve, because I didn’t specifically want to say this or that about Zuma. Doing so would fatally limit the possible reading of the image. I initially did Z is for Zapiro and then I realised I can’t do Z without Zuma – the man’s political and metaphorical significance is just too big! You play a lot with scale in this exhibition. For instance, the painting Black Gynaecologist was exhibited as a sketchbook work back in 1996. Why revisit that image as a large painting? The original image was A4-size in one of my drawing books, but I thought that it never achieved the full effect I intended. It just didn’t work as a line-and-ink drawing.


Cape Town, 16 October 2008

Alphabet of Democracy: R is for a Racist 2008 Pencil on paper 150 x 90cm


Birth 2008 Acrylic on canvas 180 x 137cm




Black Gynaecologist 2008 Acrylic on canvas 142 x 200cm


Alphabet of Democracy: Z is for Zuma 2008 Colour etching 61 x 53.5cm Edition of 25


Alphabet of Democracy: I is for Incarcerated School Principal 2008 Acrylic on paper 37 x 55cm


Alphabet of Democracy: B is for Black 2008 Lithographic print 57 x 44.5cm Edition of 35


Alphabet of Democracy: W is for White 2008 Lithographic print 57 x 44.5cm Edition of 35


Boy Soldiers 2008 Black ink, acrylic and pencil on paper 30 x 22.5cm


Alphabet of Democracy: N is for Nightmare 2008 Lithographic print 57 x 67cm Edition of 35


‘Which of you miserable cunts will suck my holy dick today?’ 2008 Black ink and acrylic on paper 225 x 150cm



Alphabet of Democracy: L is for Legacy of a Lame Duck President 2008 Pencil, black ink and acrylic on paper 50 x 65cm


Alphabet of Democracy: J is for Jacob and Jesus 2008 Pencil, black ink and acrylic on paper 50 x 65cm


Tragi-comedie Cursed Paradise series 2008 Black ink and acrylic on lithographic prints 66 x 50cm each



Fertile Land


Black Dicks


‘Oh dear God!’


‘Thanks super rich man!’


Run, Daddy, Run!


‘Sometimes I miss the old days ...’



Schlock Horror


‘I love the white middle class ...’ 2008 Acrylic on canvas 120 x 120cm



The 2nd Coming 2008 Black ink and acrylic on paper 30 x 22.5cm ‘Well, how do you like that for a coincidence?’ 2008 Acrylic on canvas 150 x 150cm




Peekaboo 2008 Acrylic on canvas 120 x 120cm


‘Say! If you speak English ...’ 2008 Lithographic print 50.5 x 66.5cm Edition of 35


BIOGRAPHY Anton Kannemeyer, born 1967, Cape Town; lives and works there SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2006 Africa Comics, Studio Museum in Harlem,

2008 The Haunt of Fears, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Shelf Life, Spike Island, Bristol; Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool

New York Bitterkomix, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town

2001 Shelf Life, Gasworks Gallery, London Move Your Shadow, Gertrude



Posel Gallery, University of the

New Work, Beam Gallery, Spier Estate,

South African Comic Artists, Fumetto

Witwatersrand, Johannesburg


2004 Comic Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland

2006 More Days of My Lives, Art on Paper,

Bitterkomix, Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town 2003

Days of My Lives, Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town

Comix 2000: Denis-Dutertre, Institut Français, Cologne, Germany Comic Strips and Graphic Stories,

Johannesburg 2005


Bulles d’Afrique, Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art, Brussels, Belgium Teken, Art on Paper, Johannesburg

Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery, Bloemfontein Unplugged 5, Market Theatre Galleries, Johannesburg




Gathering Evidence, Art on Paper,

Bitterkomix, Cyclone BD Comics Festival,

towards-transit, Pro-Helvetia, Löwenbräu,


St Denis, Reunion Family Histories, Tropen Museum,


Amsterdam, The Netherlands Bitterkomix, Grober Unfug Galerie, Berlin,

2007 Artisti a Castagnoli, Gaiole, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy From and To: From Trentino South Tyrol to the rest of the world and back, Kunst Meran, Merano, Italy


Zürich, Switzerland Gestript, Arenberginstituut, University of Leuven, Belgium Babel Tower, Johannesburg Civic Gallery, Johannesburg

Matite Africane, Accademia di Belle Arti, Bologna, Italy Black and White in Ink: Under the skin of SA cartooning, NSA Gallery, Durban Bitterkomix, Art on Paper, Johannesburg

1998 Histories of the Present, Wits Theatre, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg


‘No, painting was not invented to decorate houses ... ‘ 2008 Black ink, acrylic and pencil on paper 30 x 22.5cm

Anton Kannemeyer thanks Claudette Schreuders, Michael Stevenson, Jan Verboom, Catherine Clarke and Danie Marais. Catalogue no 37 | October 2008 Michael Stevenson, Buchanan Building, 160 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock 7925, South Africa Tel +27 (0)21 462 1500 | Editor Sophie Perryer Design Gabrielle Guy Photographs Mario Todeschini (pages 1, 2, 9, 10, 13, 14, 20, 23-25, 39-42, 46-48), Jan Verboom (pages 11, 16-19, 21, 26, 27, 29-36, 44) Image repro Ray du Toit Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town



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