4000 Word Essay

Contextual Practice Essay – 28 July 2019


Exchanging Practices: White entitlement inside the sub-Saharan garden wall.

Jacqui Chapman in conversation with Jonathan Wateridge



Talking about our painting practices defined by post-colonial Zambia and the gated community in post-apartheid South Africa where psychological landscapes are shaped by our proximity to violence through experience of privilege, politics and memory.

This essay is based on an one and a half hour conversation with Jonathan Wateridge on 16 January 2019, and is also partly editorially constructed to include contextual references in painting, literature and film that have developed in my research since this conversation. It reflects my own practice process of sampling through collage and draws together different source material to create one conversation, although most of it was covered in the initial conversation. The final edit has been seen and amended by Jonathan Wateridge. (email 24/07/19)


In May 2018 I returned to South Africa to research the viability of living there again. It exposed my previously ‘blindfolded’ privileged position. I am beginning to appreciate a broader context beyond swimming pools and sprinklers described as ‘blonde and innocent, shining with angelic light’ in an escape from violence behind high walls ‘guarded by bulldogs’ in Age of Iron. (Coetzee,1990 p19). With this in mind, Jonathan Wateridge and I discuss our sub-Saharan privilege and painting practices which both deal with the subject of white entitlement within the garden wall. Wateridge grew up in Zambia, and I in South Africa, both children of liberal journalist parents, we have much in common; colonial inheritance for him, apartheid for me, finally each leaving Africa for the UK. As we discuss our respective positions I realise I am objectively unpicking my subjective experience of apartheid during the height of oppression in the 1980’s in an attempt to understand the past for which I am guilty, have colluded in by benefitting from wealth and opportunity at the expense of human suffering, and yet for the most part, was typically blissfully unaware. This has something to do with state control and censorship, hiding atrocities during the State of Emergency in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Jonathan Wateridge, Swimmer, (2016) Oil on Linen, 200 x 300 cm, Enclave exhibition, London


Jacqui Chapman – JC
Jonathan Wateridge – JW

JC- “Politics and memory are entwined for us and we are similarly interested in making work where politics is implicit rather than didactic. I understand your earlier film set building skills enabled you to create large fabricated poolside environments based on your memories of Zambia. Can you tell me about it?

JW – The sets were built in a studio in London but they referenced growing up in Lusaka. The models interacted in this fabricated space, which I photographed and painted from.

JC – Looking at the work from your Enclave exhibition in October 2016, and recognising familiar themes in motifs like the wall, I was wondering how closely autobiographical your work is?

JW – The wall was a strong motif in this body of work. I am less interested in my own biography, even although the Enclave paintings refer to Zambia. I found my way to answer the biographical. I turn inward and deconstruct it and take apart that construct of what it is, from the inside out. I am more interested in the world around me. The way I have gone about making work, building sets, bringing actors in and staging the whole thing, is to keep everything removed. It’s about image construction and how images are generated. What seems everyday, like lying beside the pool after a swim, becomes strange and unfamiliar which is also about the wider issues of the “halcyon façade”. (Fisher, 2016, Enclave)

JC – The African swimmer is a powerful painting. He seems out of place.

JW – I was very interested in who has access to the spaces inside the wall. Our past was not like this, so it does challenge the West’s lingering sense of entitlement.

JC – Did Hockney’s Californian poolside paintings of the 1970’s feed into your poolside paintings as an aspirational idea of the suburban LA Pool? You mentioned ‘unspoken zoning’, gates and a similar climate to Africa.

david_hockney_portrait_of_an_artist_1971 (1)

David Hockney, Self Portrait (with Two Figures and Pool) (1971), Acrylic on canvas, 210 x 300 cm

JW – The deep inequity kicked off in my mind in LA. The other thing that felt familiar apart from the weather was an unspoken zoning and segregation of where people lived. You drive through certain parts of LA, the really affluent areas in that winding leafy tree lined African city suburban kind of way, and all of them have big gates. I came back and made a bunch of paintings about these gates. After Hockney’s celebratory paintings, I wanted rather more a sense of daylight disquiet and doubt in mine.

JC – Why did you want to create a sense of unease?

JW – To rupture nostalgia.

JC – Another painter who has mentioned your work and who paints the lifestyles of opulence in the Hollywood Hills of LA and Palm Springs is Caroline Walker. Her lush oases have a voyeuristic quality, as if these affluent people are “trapped in the isolation of a gilded cage”, (Livingstone, 2018, p13). Her seductive painterliness of women’s private lives makes you feel both the spectator and the subject. It’s unsettling. I am trying to achieve this in my work.

JW – Walker scouted unfamiliar Modernist LA houses that present her subjects in a slightly removed commentary within a sense of watched intimacy behind the walls, often reflected in glass.

Caroline Walker Fishing

Caroline Walker, Fishing ( 2017) Oil on Linen, 250 x 200 cm

JC – This work reminds me of the South African gated community. I am interested in how politics disrupts idyllic white worlds. I was aware of a criminal undercurrent in broad daylight when I returned to South Africa in May to research the impact of violence on society since the 1994 elections. Ian Calvert, responsible for Red Bull’s philanthropic Amaphiko Projects, took me to Khayelitsha and Langa Townships near Cape Town, to see how crime was being addressed through grassroots initiatives like the ’18 Gangster Museum’, established to give a ‘taste’ of what prison is like to dissuade youths from getting involved with drugs, which leads to crime. By 2020 it is estimated that 100% of this age group will be out of work, and crime will be out of control.

Gangster Museum

18 Gangster Museum, Khayelitsha, May 2018, Source: J Chapman

JW – I think our point of experience is the every day. I like the interface between the personal and the political because that’s how we have to absorb the world. It’s where the personal, public and political meet, and the idea of who has access to a space and ultimately who has access to opportunity.

Jonathan Wateridge Enclave ItsNiceThat-11

 Jonathan Wateridge, Pool, (2016) Oil on linen, 200 x 300cm, Enclave Series

JC – I noticed the Enclave paintings mostly deal with white subjects around a pool yet the recent work you sent me features almost entirely black subjects. Is this an intentional shift?

JW – Yes, I think the earlier work with the black African Swimmer, I wanted the idea of this single African figure moving through this space, and then it not being very clear as to if he is part of it, alongside these nostalgic comfortable images. Does he have full access to that space? Does he inhabit it with these people? These are questions I wanted to raise. And obviously this is based on the garden I first grew up in.

JC – I realised this, with that familiar brick wall.

JW – They were everywhere. The wall was the main motif that ran inside the environment that kept people out and secured affluence and comfort within it. The second half of it opened up that space to other identities and in part is a wish fulfilment of the past, which wasn’t the case back in the 1970’s in Africa. These questions are still there with the Lilo painting, with a raft subtext to them. The future is not secure in any shape or form.

JC – Enclosed gardens are not a new idea. As early as the 1400’s this was seen as a bounded space in paintings and manuscripts, imagined and idealistic. It was also used as “an emblem to the Virgin’s immaculate conception, protecting her closed womb from sin in Medieval and Renaissance art.” (Robins, 2016 p13) The walled medieval garden was necessary in times of conflict. In more stable eras walls were removed for a seamless view integrating the countryside and the manor house using a ha-ha, made popular by landscapers like Capability Brown.

Gerard David

Gerard David, (probably 1510) The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor, National Gallery

JW – Gardens have been an expression of power for centuries. Expansive, ornate, clipped and controlled nature, they are also places imbued with social, political and psychological meaning too.

JC – The Cape of Good Hope was seen as a kind of enclave during the Dutch Colonisation in 1652. An enclosed garden surrounded by as yet unexplored hinterland, bountiful and fruitful, and supplied the Dutch East India Company’s ships en route to the Far East. (Coetzee, 2007, p12)

JW – The idea of enclosure reinvents an intolerance of others with Trump’s Wall and Brexit’s borders in Northern Ireland. I think everything that we take for granted in terms of our standing in the world is based on the Colonial Empire. You can’t expect that to go away overnight. Political colonisation was also corporate colonisation.

JC – I read that you don’t like being referred to as a “photo-realist”.

JW – I don’t. It’s not a genre of painting I like and often acts in denial of paint rather than celebration of it. For sure, I’m not making De Koonings but how paint is handled has always been at the core of how I approach making work.

JC – Can you tell me about your interest in film and the constructed realities in Michelangelo Antonioni’s trilogy?


Michaelangelo Antonioni, (1961) [Film] La Notte

JW – I am interested in film. One of the things I struggled with in the past and found quite liberating last year was in changing the way I paint. Depicting things in terms of less and less realism allows me to have more of a direct engagement with cinematic language. When working more closely with realism, when things were backlit or looked too cinematic, it felt like the painting was never free from it. I needed to light things in a painterly way, or in a blank way, from the front. Whereas now that I am dealing with things in a more expressive way, I able to use more cinematic sources because I am doing enough with paint to take it away from that territory.

JC – I watched Antonioni’s films and see why his approach to narrative and realism could influence painting: (L’Aventura 1960, La Notte 1961, L’Eclise 1962). His use of composition to direct storytelling was innovative at the time. Your work gives me the same feeling as Peter Doig’s Canoe paintings, painted from a film clip of a moment in a narrative that is still but also unquiet.

JW – That pretty much sums up everything I would want a painting to do. I don’t make great claims of what a painting can do, but if it just does that I am pretty happy. Putting in a little inflection of insecurity makes you ask a few questions.

JC – Are you saying by taking a painterly interpretive position this creates painterly language freedom?


 Jonathan Wateridge, (2018) Night Lilo, Oil on linen, 175 x 155cm

JW – Yes then the painterly language owns the image and controls it, rather than the other way around. First and foremost I am a painter, and I want paint to be a crucial aspect in terms of the way one engages with the work. Using the poetics of paint to generate meaning. The Night Lilo painting I sent you is a perfect example of that. You start off with a source image and it’s through the process of paint that you end up finding the image that you want to convey, rather than feeling however nicely you do it that you are illustrating an existing image, wanting to get away from painting as illustration.

JC – Avoiding sentimentality, but still using a personal lens, I am trying to find a way to paint the disquieting things, the un-still parallel worlds on either side of the wall that bridges the political and the nostalgic, which your work does very well.

JW – Thank you. Especially with landscape, it’s difficult to navigate. One way of doing it is to deal with the issue of land reform in South Africa. I think that relationship between landscape and ownership of it, because that deals with both collective and personal memory, is very interesting territory. How you go about imaging that, I don’t know. If I knew, I would do it! I think it would allow you a way in to dealing with the landscape of your youth and imagination and everything you grew up with, but also dealing with who has access to that land and who owns it, if there is a way of exploring then that I think that is very rich territory.

JC – I have always thought my memories of place could verge on the sentimental, but if it is underpinned by loss due to politics this could be a way forward. I have been thinking about loss of land and identity for a long time. Land redistribution is currently a distressing area of political concern; white South Africans who comprise 9% of the population still own 72% of the land. (Keane, Africa Correspondent, BBC) The ANC is in the process of changing the constitution to redistribute land without compensation.

JW – Zambia didn’t really become that unsafe and was not the reason we left when I was 18. Obviously violence existed but, relative to certain neighbouring states, Zambia was and until very recently, pretty stable. There is a growing diaspora from conflict. Even here in the UK, there’s almost a collective amnesia over the migrant crisis and has been since 2014.

JC – Amnesia is widespread in South Africa too. Rebuilding the nation through redemption using memory as witness began the healing through testimony in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996, but many feel it is an incomplete process as only those perpetrators already identified, confessed. I met Liza Key who makes films using testimony about ordinary people’s experience of apartheid working with Philip Miller who wrote a cantata based on the recorded archived sounds of memory retrieval. He often works with William Kentridge. There was mistrust and anger at the time, and it persists as apartheid does. The truth was buried in part. It is a violent place to live; gated communities now comprise 15% of all properties and only cater for the elite. (Key, REwind, 2014)

JW – I wondered if the TRC had provided an acceptable amnesty.

JC – In Negotiating the Past, which is a collection of essays about the TRC, Njabulo Ndebele is one of the contributors and writes that in pursuit of truth in a moral desert the previously silenced voices, and methods for silencing them through brutality, torture and humiliation, resulted in an ugly reality impossible to articulate. (Ndebele 1998 p23) Or as Marlene Dumas said, she felt she was one of the oppressors. (Essink, Miss Interpreted,1992) Her early experience of trauma and political unrest haunted her desire and ability to create a painting practice that displays an emotional realism whilst distancing itself from the photographic. (Butler 2008 p43)

JW – I see a similarity in testimonial truth in Claude Lanzmann’s holocaust film Shoah. He was astounded that life in Poland appeared to carry on as though the holocaust had been erased. He began filming non-Jewish bystanders who with throat slitting gestures, either as warning or revelling in their ant-Semitic fate, had demonstrated to arriving victims. (Jeffries, Shoah, 2011)

JC – Rewriting history based on memory could be biased, depending on who writes it, or flawed by inexact recollection. Sometimes used as propaganda. I am not suggesting any of these positions in Lanzmann’s film. In the book Present Pasts by Andreas Huyssen, Urban Palimpsest and the Politics of Memory, he writes “historical trauma has a unique power to generate works of art and the imagination as much as it has a tendency to vanish in the abyss of amnesia and wilful forgetting.” (Huysenn,, 2003 p 9). He suggests that we need to understand the past to enable us to imagine the future, but we fear “oblivion and disappearance” in our media driven world of information.

JW – In painting the past, the authority of the artist is interesting. Even among painters I admire, like Luc Tuymans, there’s occasional work that you could say he can’t really claim that. Some of his Second World War work is not his generation, nor his nation. There’s other work like ‘Mwana Kitoko: Beautiful White Man’, of Patrice Lumumba, (2000) first Prime Minister of Belgian Congo, who was assassinated and questions Belgium’s unspoken role in colonialism. Artists like Gerhardt Richter and Anselm Kiefer, who grew up in the war or aftermath, do have a genuine claim to the war and you as the viewer become your own editor and meaning generator when you go into a space and start making your own connections.

Tuymans is arguably the most significant figurative painter of the last 25 years or more. I certainly wouldn’t want to suggest that he is anything less. Of course, I realise that the Nazis occupied Belgium and Tuymans is of an age where he would still be very conscious of that legacy while growing up but my issue with some of the Nazi era work, which he deals with intelligently and aesthetically brilliantly as he so often does, is that I can’t help but feel that there is a degree of art historical “positioning” in the way that he employs the subject matter and kind of picks up this lineage from Richter. Also that’s probably fine, but I just feel that the Congo series is far more successful and pertinent on every level. For me, the series is on a par with Richter’s Baader Meinhof paintings. To be honest, I probably hold the ‘making claims for a work it can’t possibly deliver’ charge against Tuymans because he gave rise to subsequent painters in his wake, who have employed the tactic of attaching a bit of historicity to stylistic gesturing in quite cynical ways – Adrien Ghenie being a prime example of that. Sasnal, who I like a lot, borders on that at times also.

luc tuymans gas chamber

Luc Tuymans, Gas Chamber, (1986) 50 x 70 cm

JC – Tuymans handles the holocaust sensitively. He said Gas Chamber was the most difficult painting he ever made. The burden of memory is “washed out, wrung out, or even bleached out. Pale and withdrawn from us.” (Glower, 2013) I have always felt that a genuine connection to a subject produces powerful work. Kiefer’s landscapes have struck me, not just in scale, but also in his painterly expressions of loss and destruction. They are emotional and psychological landscapes. I relate to living in a country where the political inheritance is abominable. South African right wing politics anchored its ideology on German racism.


 Anselm Kiefer, Ice and Blood, (1971) Royal Academy Retrospective

JW – Our attitude to violence is complex, wrestled from many historical injustices and some still every day. Susan Sontag considers our empathy towards images of violence in Regarding the Pain of Others, where she says that photographs need to accuse and possibly shock to change how we behave. (Sontag, 2003)

JC – Harvey Tyson, ex-editor of The Star left wing Johannesburg newspaper, also believed that violent images have a time limit because shock wears off as images become familiar. Sontag thinks people choose not to see to protect themselves from what upsets them, being “habituated to horror”. In our “rising level of acceptable violence and sadism in mass culture”, she believes for engagement to happen we need to feel compassion and argues that there are two widespread ideas: Firstly, because we live in a society of spectacle the media controls which images we see thus making atrocities real. Secondly, over saturation of images makes us callous. Violence starts to become meaningless. (Sontag, 2003, p73, p90)

There is also the question of the banality of evil, and vicarious complicity. Can one do evil without being evil? These were questions philosopher Hannah Arendt explored over Eichman’s orchestration of the extermination of Jews at his trial in 1961. I feel it is important to open up these issues in African terms, so that the viewer can reconsider their position. We don’t hear about South Africa on the news anymore and things are definitely not okay there.

JW – If you address a particular issue then historically your work could potentially have a cease of function. But, I also I think because painting is old and has a lot of baggage it has a slightly side-ways look at issues if you are going to take them on. I like subtext to set up a series of questions or ideas that you can take or leave as you come to it as the viewer.

JC – Like Gerard Richter’s Bader Meinhoff paintings, which slow down a political event to enable the viewer to become more involved than they would have been with a photograph, for instance, because paintings involve reflection and time.

JW – Exactly.

JC – I understand that apartheid could be seen as yesterday’s news. I am reading biographies that witness these events, like Gillian Slovo’s Every Secret Thing and Mike Nicol’s The Waiting Country, A South African Witness. For us to understand our amnesiac attitude towards violence, we need to face the agony in detail. He describes a woman being ‘neck-laced’ by her husband. He was forced to strike the match that lit 3 petrol filled tyres around her neck in front of their children. (Nicol 1995 p102). This is carnal violent crime. I don’t want to make paintings of this.

JW – On one level we make images because we genuinely aesthetically enjoy the process. On the other hand it could be testament, paying witness to something, but I think painting is not a great journalistic medium. There are better more instant ways of reporting on the world now.

JC – Do you think painters like John Piper, Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland had a responsibility to bring news back from the front when we had no access to media?

JW – Yes, there was no other way to share the destruction as depicted in bleak mud sodden tree stumped landscapes then. Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’ etchings fulfilled the same role.

JC – I was thinking about our need to distance ourselves from violence. Did you know the far right Afrikaners created a whites-only, Afrikaners- only ‘Volkstaat’, or nation. They believed that “their way was morally right and ordained by God”, but also in this “decrepit town where a small group of people were at odds with the world, frightened by history, clinging desperately to a brief time when their way was law.” (Nicol,1995 p110).

White Border Farmers Northern Transvall, 1985, Juhan Kuus

Juhan Kuus, White Border Farmers in the Northern Transvaal, (1985)

They lived in commandos expecting full-scale civil war, which they believed they would win. I am using an image called White Border Farmers by Juhan Kuus, a much celebrated photojournalist during apartheid, where the traditional icon of Madonna and Child is subverted. The mother holds the child and the gun equally naturally, killing and nurturing at the same time.

Rossler good

Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes from the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967-1972)

JW – The proximity of violence is also evident in Martha Rosler’s work Bringing the War Home where images from Life magazine of the dead and the wounded in the Vietnam War are collaged as a view from an American sitting room. It was known as ‘The sitting room war’. Rosler forces us to rethink the boundaries between the social and the political particularly because this work shared space in a glossy magazine.

  Geneseis VII                                     
 Kudzanai Chiurai, Genesis VII, (2016)

JW – Thinking about constructed realities, Kudzanai Chiurai, originally from Zimbabwe, exiled in South Africa. His interest in the political reflects a time when his country was ravaged by civil war. It’s a different take on colonial heritage to my work. In 2017 Chiurai exhibited a 3-part series of work, which is politically charged and quite theatrical. The first was Revelations in (2011) and continued with Genesis (Je n’isi isi) (2016) and We Live in Silence (2017)}. He challenges dominant colonial narratives by creating what he calls “counter memories” and presents these “colonial futures” which offer an alternate African utopia using black protagonists in place of colonial references, like David Livingstone and the Christian missionaries. It’s a different contemporary treatment of a fabricated world.”


Our conversation comes to a close. I realise our mutual interest in telling these histories where politics and memory converge, a privileged escape comfortably couches our nostalgic voices as children of the African diaspora, and the “poetics of paint” offer a new engagement. As Huysenn writes, “Focus on trauma is legitimate where nations or groups of people are trying to come to terms with a history of violence suffered or violence perpetuated.” (2003 p9). Sontag believes that people often feel the need to refresh their memories, and many victim peoples want a memory museum. (2004, p78). In architect Daniel Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin, he creates a zigzag building where at each intersection of the building there is a slice of empty space. It cannot be entered, only viewed from a series of small bridges that cross at these intersections, and which he calls the void. (Huyssen, 2003, p68). I wonder if memory weighed down by the past needs an escape from it, or a space to contemplate it?



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