In his final year-exhibition, Rhodes University fine art graduate, Michal Kruger, interrogated masculine Afrikaner identity. His site-specific work, TJANK, was installed in a rugby field bathroom. For him, rugby is the ultimate symbol of the Afrikaner man; a particular type of macho-masculinity is cultivated in testosterone-filled locker rooms and on the field, physical prowess rules. But what happens if you don’t play rugby? On what merit do you define your masculinity? Here Michal tells us why he chose to explore this theme, what being a student was like and what he makes of the South African creative scene.
Tell us about your creative background.
I’ve always been creatively inclined and was always busy drawing or making things as a kid. Art was always my favourite subject at school, and I enjoyed exploring art at an in depth level in the latter part of high school. I never thought I’d actually end up studying art, however, I could never see myself having done anything else. University completely opened my mind to what the art world had to offer, and I loved being in a creatively-charged environment. I became very drawn to the conceptual side of art making and the transient nature that artworks can have on the viewer.
Please tell us about some of the themes and ideas you’ve been exploring with your student work.
Throughout my student years, I explored a plethora of different themes and ideas but I suppose at the core of each artwork and project was always a strong sense of self. I always used myself as a reference point. Through this self-referential process, art became a kind of catharsis to deal with the ideas and issues in my head and to visualise them.
“Growing up as a white Afrikaner male, I personally experienced many of the toxic behaviours that surrounds this identity. For me, the sport of rugby was always the ultimate symbol of the Afrikaner man, and ironically I was never able to play the sport.”
The more confident I became with my abilities, the more personal my art seemed to become until my final year when I was dealing with issues that were very close to me. I’ve always been very interested in experiences and the manner in which the personal can transcend the boundaries of any one individual. I always tried to create a bridge between myself and my own identity in order to contextually frame myself within larger society, and in that way make myself the subject of a larger topic that is worth exploration.
How did this feed into your final project? What was the concept and how did you execute it?
For my final year, I decided to explore issues of white Afrikaner masculinity that are prevalent in South African society. Growing up as a white Afrikaner male, I personally experienced many of the toxic behaviours that surround this identity. For me, the sport of rugby was always the ultimate symbol of the Afrikaner man, and ironically I was never able to play the sport. As one can imagine, this lead to much isolation as a child, especially from my male peers, and I believe that many of these problematic male traits are still evident in our society and affect us daily.
This resulted in the creation of my exhibition entitled TJANK (the Afrikaans word for whimper). TJANK is the exploration of my relationship with the iconic white Afrikaner male through the subversion of the exclusionary masculinised practice of rugby. The exhibition was installed on a site-specific location of a bathroom on a rugby field in order to evoke the exclusionary spaces in which traditional constructed masculinities exist.
I wanted to take all my experiences and put them into that space using a variety of different artworks and techniques which would allow the viewer to step into a world of problematised white Afrikaner masculinity. Using myself as a starting point, I used many of my own memories and feelings and situated them within a larger discourse so the work transcended past myself and was therefore able to speak to the viewers and their experiences as well.
What has your experience as a student been like? What valuable lessons did you learn along the way?
Being a student was an amazing experience. It was an incredibly safe space to experiment and explore art. It puts you in the midst of other people,who see the world in strange and interesting ways, and encourages you to do the same. As students we learnt just as much from each other as we did from our lecturers which was a great way of exploring ideas and feeling supported in what we were doing. I learnt that when it comes to art you only ever get out what you put in. If you are dedicated to your idea and your craft then you can produce amazing things. At the end of the day, it is up to you. Being a student, you learn so much and I know I was left looking at the world in a completely different way. I learnt to be critical of my environment and my position in it and to make art that reflects this.
What excites you most about the South African creative industry?
South Africa seems to going through another transition period (especially in the last few years) and it’s exciting to see how young artists are reacting to the current state of our country. Artists have the unique position to create work that is able to reflect society and I think, now more than ever, we need new and fresh perspectives in these changing times that will show us who we truly are. What is exciting is that South African art has to be challenging now, and it has to be uncomfortable for people. It is in these challenging spaces that art thrives.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Honestly, I have no idea. However, I’d love to be living as an artist and creating work in a professional capacity. I do plan on doing my Master’s in the future and maybe even lecturing at some point, but who knows?
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