The idea of the Rainbow Nation in a so called post-apartheid South Africa has always been shaky at best. It’s cracking now, with the image of a unified, non-racist, non-sexist, non-classist nation seeming more of a myth than ever before. Through a multimedia series based off digital collage work on Instagram, 22 year old Tiger Maremela is seeking to interrogate and reimagine the idea of a Rainbow Nation.
Entitled roygbiv, the series uses a collection of videos, images, and music to focus on concepts such as the politics of blackness, capitalism, sports and health in black communities, and most importantly, how varying forms of black masculinity fit into this space. Having just released part 4 which through bright swatches of yellow looks at sport in the socio-economic realm, Tiger had a quick chat with us about the ongoing multimedia series.
How long have you been working on the idea for the multimedia series?
I have been interested in the Rainbow Nation myth for most of the year but it was only in October when I decided to start compiling these ideas into a visual format. Throughout the year I had been creating pieces of work in different forms so the multimedia series was a culmination of all the various mediums of art that I had previously been experimenting with.
The series is premised on the idea of a failing Rainbow Nation. Is this a response to the rhetoric we’re fed through media and throughout schooling systems?
There is a collective realisation that 1994 unfortunately sold us dreams. The myth of a Rainbow Nation has suffocated black people since its existence, and this multimedia series is an attempt at exposing that. Roygbiv brings to light an opposing narrative to the one that white supremacist heteronormative capitalist patriarchy has hidden away from black people – a narrative that reminds us that we are still beautiful.
Why focus on the position of the black man specifically in the country’s shifting socio- economic and political landscape?
As a black queer South African, using the black boy/man to help narrate this story was a personal choice and one that was informed by this country’s politics. The assumption is that the black man being looked at in roygbiv is the stereotypical cithetero black patriarch with “African” beliefs and elitist capitalist behaviours. But closer inspection of the series exposes a queering of this character, and an inclusion of many other characters of varying masculinities.
I only have the experience of a queer black boy/man and I have used this as a point of departure. I use quare intersectional theory as a guide for many of my creations, with a strong focus on race and gender. If roygbiv were a human, he’d be a black gender(queer) 20 year old, from a small mining town, currently going through a quarter life crisis.
Your Instagram is full of collages and illustrations of a similar style. Did your Instagram inspire much of your roygbiv series?
My Instagram account has played a major role in a lot of the work that I’ve created, especially roygbiv. I have been creating these installations for months now and with each one there has been a clear evolution in my aesthetic. Roygbiv is a multimedia, multi-channel project, so the collages and videos are extensions of each other. My Instagram account breaks the rules in terms of how images are meant to be laid out on the app, and my most recent collage installation incorporates my usual collage aesthetic with video.
Each part features a wealth of content. How do you go about sourcing your content? Do you collect images and videos over time?
Without realising it, I had been collecting content throughout the year so when it came to finally putting the series together I already had enough material to start off with. It also helps that the Internet is my best friend, I didn’t mind the hours of sourcing and research.
What’s the function of a digital collage when speaking to the social fragmentation of a ‘post- apartheid’ South Africa?
When you look at South Africa particularly, we are a living collage work. We have hundreds of years of a complex history and so this series is an attempt at understanding all of that. I have used digital collage work as a way of recreating new images that question this “post-apartheid” South Africa. I think the beauty of digital art, and with roygbiv particularly, lies in the multidimensionality of its interpretations. Digital collages allow you to weave together new and different stories, and the inclusion of sound and video creates interesting visual journeys.
Part 2 is premised on the idea of land reform and redistribution in Africa. What was the idea behind using the image of a typically white Jesus feeding the masses?
The intention with roygbiv has always been to find contradictions and to contest ideas that people had accepted without question. In Part 2, I juxtaposed images of a white Jesus against those of Julius Malema. I wanted to interrogate the concept of a white Messiah distributing food to the masses, and compare that to the case of a black Malema and his calls for land reform. The parable of the fish and loaves was also an interesting one to observe, and I used that imagery to make links to colonialism and the Scramble for Africa. There are several other minor themes that I have made hints to, such as the presence of whiteness in black movements and spaces.
Part 3 then interrogates clothing as a cultural performance through black sub-cultures which you link to “assimilation as well as Black Excellence—two sides of the same coin.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
In a lot of the research that I had been doing for Part 3, the same kinds of conclusions could be deduced from the articles – the issues of assimilation and the capitalist nature of some black sub-cultures. Part 3 acknowledges this but also attempts to celebrate these sub-cultures. Too often we interrogate ooSwenka, izikhothane and the Sapeurs in isolation, and so for this video I brought them together in search of common themes – Black Excellence being one of them. The black male experience does not exist in isolation and so the Herero women were also invited to the party.
Can you tell us a little bit about Part 4?
For Part 4 I’ve looked at the colour yellow. If you’ve watched Part 1 and seen the collages on Instagram you might notice the use of sports imagery as a main feature. I question sport and present it as a product of capitalism. The other kinds of questions that Part 4 asks is why it has become a vehicle for nationalism in ‘post-apartheid’ South Africa, and what has made sport a breeding ground for hegemonic masculinities. I also question why major sporting events, such as the FIFA World Cup, have become synonymous with authoritarian control and corporate excess.
Art in the realm of the digital is still fairly young in South Africa. How did you get involved in digital art?
I think for me digital art was a natural progression. For the last three years, I have been working on different mediums, like photography, videography, and most recently collage work. Digital art is growing all over the world and artists are breaking down the barriers that determine what is and isn’t digital art. We are living in a time when we get to tell and reclaim our own stories and South African artists are definitely doing the most.
Will you stay in digital media or do you have plans to take your art into other realms?
I have only just scratched the surface when it comes to digital media so I would still like to spend some time exploring that. I live in an interesting country and I doubt I’ll run out of ideas or content any time soon. Collaborating with other artists would be great. I’d really love to start exhibiting my work in galleries and figuring out how to use space and the integration of an audience in my work.
What happens when the colours of the rainbow come to an end? What lies ahead?
Honestly, I don’t know what lies next. But if it were up to me, at the end of the rainbow would be a land where queer black boys can finally breathe and find themselves beautiful.