Exploring identity through colour and light


Abandoning perceptions meant to differentiate, Krisjan Rossouw creates a play on Pop Art with tribal paint and traditional ritual clay, in the endless colour spectrum, forsaking imagined or imposed notions of who we are based on how we are told we are seen. Typical of Rossouw’s oeuvre, closer examination retains the personal collaborative relationship he explores with the subjects he shoots. A continuing direct dialogue between the viewer and the viewed. Continuing his signature approach to lighting, Rossouw illuminates his subjects in alternative hues, elevating them to an unnaturally saturated level. Seemingly playful in it’s creation of a club of fictionalized ‘cultures’, multiple questions arise: The perceived versus the real relationship between skin colour and cultural identity. If no two of us where the same ‘colour’, what possible societies would result?  Rossouw’s hyperbole presents a critique not only on the ideal of the ‘rainbow nation’ (the term used to describe post-apartheid South Africa) but also the greater concern of the burgeoning global culture of systemic division and the senselessness of assumed superficiality weaponized and enlisted in the drive to divide.

Below, Megan Dicks catches up with Krisjan Rossouw to discuss this new series.

Megan: Your extraordinary eye for African portraiture has been applauded internationally over several years and just when we thought you couldn’t possibly exceed the work you’ve created to date, you have absolutely captivated us with your latest series – Culture Club. This work is particularly exciting as it seems to have thrown a powerful new light on your art practice, in terms of your brave and playful visual dialogue with the socio-political interpretation of colour and culture. What does this series mean to you?

Krisjan: There has been much happening in the global political landscape around division and ‘otherness’. Similarly, and particularly across Africa, there’s a growing culture of ‘us and them’ driving multiple agendas which continues to concern me. I needed to address these somehow, to better understand them. Culture Club grew from that exploration: a response to the imagined or imposed notions of who we are based on how we’re told we’re seen. A fictionalised parallel place where the idea of colour became celebratory, where we literally became the ‘rainbow nation’ (the term commonly used to describe South Africa in the post-apartheid) is where Culture Club came to exist. The hyperbole presented interesting possibilities to me. If we were each a different colour, what possible society would that yield? It’s a naïve ideal, certainly, but once I started working and shooting, a deeper resonance began to reveal itself.

Megan: Yes, an interesting thought ‘If we were each a different colour, what possible society would that yield?’

Culture Club has been described as modern African Pop Art. Yet your muses are washed in traditional materials such as initiation clay, binding the old with the new. Tell us about the process and direction behind Culture Club?

Krisjan: I have an ongoing interest in traditional adornment employed in ritual. Across Africa, traditional clays and body adornments are still used for ceremonies, important rites of passage and celebration. They co-exist with the modern. When exploring the idea of Culture Club, this idea of timelessness, where the past and present co-exist was key. Warhol’s use of saturated colour in his portrait prints and paintings, even the repetition of the singular image were early references, and the paradox of these being executed with traditional elements interested me. As the series evolved, I found myself stripping back any additional elements (like the found objects and flora employed in some of my previous series). The bright and contrasting colour between the subject and the backdrop, and the interaction with the subject (a collaborative aspect pivotal to all my work) was all that seemed required to communicate the image. In fact, the image became more about expression than colour at all.

Megan: Cape Town is a stylish and dynamic city and you and Deon have your finger on the design pulse. So aside from a visit to your fabulous art gallery – Deepest Darkest – which destinations make you proud to be a Capetonian?

Deepest Darkest Art Gallery – De Waterkant Heritage Village.

Norval Foundation – Art Museum, Steenberg Estate.

Zeitz MOCAA – Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

South African National Gallery – Cape Town City Centre.

Everard Read Gallery – Franschhoek and Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

Grande Provence Gallery – The Heritage Wine Estate in Franschhoek.

OZCF Market – Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

The Spice Route – Paarl.

Babylonstoren – Paarl.


For an earlier post written by Megan Dicks following her Cape Town travels – Read Here.