Figures and Fictions: Roelof Van Wyk

Roelof Van Wyk explains his ambitious project to use portraiture to document the shifting nature of Afrikaner identity in post-apartheid South Africa

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Video Transcript

Where I grew up, a small Africana conservative community, my mother the church organist, it’s religious, it’s conservative, it’s racist, it’s the Apartheid system. Historically twenty years ago even before it, part of the Apartheid’s propaganda was that we, the Afrikaner, were the chosen folk as in the Bible, that religion under laid it very, very strongly. You weren’t allowed to think for yourself, you weren’t trusted to think for yourself, and television only arrived late in this country because they were afraid that we would get other world views.

I was born in sixty-nine so I was nineteen, just left school, first year of university, kind of finding my space. And in 1990 there was the first referendum – only white people – you had to vote, ‘yes’, or, ‘no’; should we engage with the other? 65% odd said yes. It’s at that point that I started already identifying quite differently from the prescribed identity, and I realised that I wasn’t the only one. Around me were all these other people, and now twenty years later, this project is a project that is documenting how far we’ve come, or how much we’ve changed, or who are we now as Afrikaners twenty years after that 1990 watershed.

Apartheid photography, apart from David Goldblatt, most of the time was photography of violence of black people. The photography in the Apartheid era of white people were all these neat, perfect-wrought portraiture. And then comes 1989 and that’s a global watershed and the same in this country, where for the first time young Afrikaner kids, like me started resisting the system. Music was the first of that to start expressing itself.  You know, from the inside obviously, the system has started to crumble, and these kids – us – took that on and started creating and expressing ourselves around that.

(Roelof Petrus van Wyk speaks to a male model in Afrikaans)

I kind of started photographing friends, and I realised here’s something really strong that I can develop into a full project because the whole body of work is a single project, its a single art work. It is a monument. So in this process, I started understanding where we are and what we are doing; as an Afrikaner, as a group, and that’s interesting because I started being able to outline an Afrikaner identity now, of where we’re at.

Yo-Landi Vi$$er. One half of Die Antwoord. So Yo-Landi is the daughter of a preacher man. Parents conservative, Afrikaans do only. As a teenager already she was a difficult, rebellious teenager. But funnily with Die Antwoord, and let’s talk about that, I think she found her voice. So there’s a white female taking rap, making it her voice and then doing it in Afrikaans’ language, which again is a takedown from Dutch which is the major language, and then Afrikaans is the language in a minor key.

That whole notion of a chosen folk has been broken up. We’re not chosen, we are South Africans and we’re part of Africa and we’re exploring what that identity means. And I’m doing it about a very specific, call it a subgroup, within the bigger Afrikaner group. But what the big group is forced to do is to question themselves; why they are here. The one big question is why are you here? Why do you stay? Why don’t you leave? If you are here and you are staying then how do you engage, how do you become African? I wanted to create a body of work that is a monument to now. What is that? Where am I? Why am I here? What is my position right now in this place; geographically in this place, ideologically, politically? Who the fuck am I?


Roelof Petrus Van Wyk’s graphic photographic portraits of a new Afrikaner generation are intended as a ‘single artwork’ that edge towards a new 21st century identity for the white Dutch-speaking and former ruling South African minority.

Roelof Van Wyk was brought up in the rural and traditional Afrikaner heartland of the Free State. In 1990, after the first referendum on engaging ‘with the other’,  Van Wyk was one of a growing number of Afrikaners who found himself engaging quite differently from the prescribed identity he had grown up with.

Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography
12 April – 17 July 2011
Sponsored by Standard Bank
The Porter Gallery
Admission charge will apply

"You weren’t trusted to think for yourself. That whole notion has been broken up. Part of the apartheid propaganda was that we the Afrikaners were the ‘chosen volk’, as in the bible. We’re not chosen. We are Africans. We are part of Africa and we are exploring what that identity means."