top of page

Pop violence: taking away the power of representation

You experience a familiar silence. The soft steps echoing in the gallery, the gentle babble of voices and now and then a soft clink of a wine glass. This is blown away. Vusi Beauchamp’s artworks in the Collector’s room at Fried Contemporary Art Gallery explode in a vibrant combination of popular culture, satirical and social political commentary. They sing in seductive tones of bright colours, popular icons, charcoal and glitter.

Photo of the Fried Contemporary Gallery Collecter's Room Plaque with Vusi Beauchamp's work in the refelction

Vusi Beauchamp describes, “I feel through layering I am erasing the history but through layering they stay [anchored].” He strives towards creating challenging conversations.”

It is only after you are drawn in do you realise the songs these works sing so seductively. They draw on difficult topics of black male representation in the 21st century. They problematize the role of mass media in creating stereotypes. The art draws on his South African upbringing in how global media forms a part of that identity. His wit is dangerously sharp, with his incorporation of language drawing on the primitive side of things and masterly drawing all these themes together.

This is echoed in the conversation held between Dr Johan Thom and the artist discussing his life, work and everything in between at the opening. Born in 1979 Vusi Beauchamp studied at Tshwane University of Technology and Graphic Design at Damelin.

Thom states, “[He is] …the youngest artist to be shown in the Collector’s room. A born and breed Pretoria artist…a satirical pop artist and added ‘trouble maker’.”

Vusi humorously adds, “I’m taking medication for it.” whilst taking another sip of his whiskey.

His calm demeanour and laidback attitude contrast his powerful, loud art. This is clearly evident in the Collector’s Room where as you enter you are confronted by the large painting Be a Man/ Micheal Jackson/ Planet of the Apes (2014).

Be a Man/ Micheal Jackson /Planet of the Apes, 2014

The aesthetics of bright vibrant colours and layering of spray painted text create a psychedelic synergy in the background. It is contrasted by the focal point of the ape in the left side of the work in its monochromatic greens. This contrast in colour changes the feeling of the focal point it creates a calming space and draws attention to the chain. The bottle of Black Label beer is being worshipped by the other apes. Here Vusi comments on the projection of Black Label advertising and how black men are always portrayed with manual labour. Vusi says he was inspired, “…drawing on the colonial view of black men as non-human…” the link formed with the planets of the Apes film. This artwork confused me initially. After seeing the yellow outline of Michael Jackson and drawing it all in, I felt compelled by this confliction of male identifiers.

Vusi states, “In the moment of creating the lines blur and the story is layered.”

For example in the painting Weapons of Cult (2014) it captures how bodies become a tool of culture. The violence of his words is contrasted by the bright baby pink. This combining usage of colour and text challenge each other in how the mind accesses and processes information. It draws on how media manipulate society. The fragmented painting style is expressive and creates almost a silhouette of a person. The viewers at the show each had a different idea of how it was from rappers to gangsters. I think it speaks to how society through adapting to culture has made us nameless.

Weapons of Cult, 2014

Vusi Beachump evokes a consciousness. He reflects how heroes and idols in popular media should be revealed as complicated relationships. He breaks away from ‘soft targets’ and reflects a vulnerability as he deals with travelling through what a black male identity is.

Watch, 2014

His works force an introspection which is difficult and reveals more questions than answers. He strives to reconstruct the preconception of a black artist and takes personal accountability for his situation. Through his investigations he takes away the powers of colonial representation and commercial mass media projections of his identity. He resists ‘cult’ movements searching for a deeper perspective. He questions if political movements like that of Steve Biko and Malcom X is the voice of the contemporary. To quote Beauchamp on how despite this collection being two years old it really resonates with the current situation in South Africa and the world he says, “It’s an extensive masturbation.”

That for me captures this ‘Pop violence’ Beauchamp has created. His works revels in collusion of African pop art, like a catchy melody it sticks with you, forcing you to question everything you know.


bottom of page