South African art - The Casspir Project by Ralph Ziman

28 Jun 2017

Among the many impressive and interesting artworks that will form part of this year's Turbine Art Fair in Newtown is artist and filmmaker Ralph Ziman's spectacular beaded Casspir, Spoek 1. Ziman has taken an apartheid weapon of destruction and with the assistance of more than than sixty South African and Zimbabwean bead artists re-purposed something monstrous into a spectacular work of art. Covered entirely with intricate, brightly coloured beadwork Ziman's Casspir, still a work in progress, has so far used up more than 50-million beads, adding more than one tonne to its weight. You have to see it to believe it.

Many South Africans who lived through the brutal final decade of apartheid will have vivid memories of the South African military vehicle the Casspir. Designed in response to the arms boycott, South Africa developed a military vehicle to quell political unrest that then made its way across the world, and became a feature of the US war in Iraq. Today The Casspir is familiar to Americans on their home ground as the chosen vehicle of US SWAT teams.

Bulletproof and mine-resistant, the Casspir was designed by the apartheid government as a military vehicle but used extensively in urban township areas in South Africa against civilian populations.

In The Casspir Project Ziman has turned the image of the Casspir on its head, reclaiming the oppressive vehicle as a friendly ghost (inspired by the name Casspir) that is a vibrant celebration of African artistry. The number plate reads 'Spoek 1' (spoek means ghost in Afrikaans), while beaded bumper stickers proclaim 'Afrika 47' a nod to the AK47, Africa's most ubiquitous weapon.

Ziman says of his work "Oppression is bland and nondescript. When the drab khaki gives way to the vibrant colours, I love it. Flat monochromatic paint disappears behind the pixelated glass beads. Fifty-five million individual beads, all hand-threaded and woven, all joining together to create a rainbow that covers the darkness with the vibrancy and sheer variance of life itself."

One of the most spectacularly sized and intricately crafted artworks to come out of South Africa in recent years The Casspir Project encompasses installation, photography, oral history, documentary and traditional craftsmanship.

The entirety of the vehicle is covered in coloured glass beads. From the steering wheels and the hubcaps to the wing mirrors, the exhaust pipes and even the treads of the tyres, it is a riot of colour and a masterpiece of detailing. It took a team of more than sixty beaders working up to twelve hours a day for six days a week, more than six months to create the panels used to cover the Casspir.

Look closely at its different elements and you'll see an array of traditional patterns created by a team of artisans from Zimbabwe and South Africa's Mpumalanga province, including women of the Ndebele tribe who are celebrated for their traditional craftsmanship. As Ziman says of the creative process behind the work; "It may take a village to raise a child. It takes a global village to bead a Casspir."

The Casspir is on display in Joburg from July 13 - 16 as part of the annual Turbine Art Fair. Bookings are now open.


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