The Power of Happiness: Cameron Platter’s Impressions from South Africa

Installation view at MoMA of Kwakuhlekisa. 2007. Stencil, dimensions variable. Publisher: the artist, Shaka’s Rock, South Africa. Edition: 3. The Museum of Modern Art. General Print Fund. © 2011 Cameron Platter. Photo by Thomas Greisel

I’m delighted to have my work included in the exhibition Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now at The Museum of Modern Art, and in MoMA’s collection. And I’m a real fan of what’s been done, and highlighted, in this show.

In South Africa, our rich history of printmaking has lately been overlooked in favor of the “next big thing”, or in an attempt to be “contemporary.” In particular, very few artists of my generation are aware of or engage with that history. I’m interested in print as a medium of activism, and although presently South Africa’s culture of resistance seems to be fading away amid a contemporary preference for bling, I think print and protest will (hopefully) have a big part to play in the future.

To focus on my work—although each series is different and marks a departure from previous works—my drawings, videos, sculptures, and prints do draw on recurring concepts/themes that cross-pollinate. They almost always have specific stories/narratives behind them, which I try to make global and personal at the same time. I like my work to be in-your-face, loud, brash, insistent, and darkly humorous, but with an undercurrent that is more slyly subtle, multilayered, and satirical.

From left: Cameron Platter. Spaceship. 2008. Acrylic on carved jacaranda wood; Cameron Platter. Killa Zebraz Spaceship. 2011. Pencil crayon on paper. © 2011 Cameron Platter

Sex, advertising, food, battle scenes, pornography, writing, politics, redemption, the good and evil of humankind, dancing, history, lust, greed, and spaceships are all constant themes of mine. Spaceships, for example, are both transport to the future and vehicles from the past; places of refuge when everything is postapocalyptically f-cked; vehicles capable of swift escape, but also harbingers of terror; links to parallel universes and other (un)realities; and machines that are able to clean things up when everything has totally fallen apart.

I aim to tell universal moral tales (without moralizing) that everyone can relate to. I’m updating and retelling stories that people have told forever, using things that I see happening every day around me. I find real life stranger than any fiction, and try to document what I see unraveling in the street, newspaper, and TV, channeling reality into some sort of personalized fiction.

Cameron Platter. Black Up That White Ass II. 2009. Video, color, sound, 26 min., 55 sec. © 2011 Cameron Platter

In Black Up That White Ass II, one of the acute angles is a reaction to the trivialized, homogenized, dumbed-down nation of franchise stores, franchise restaurants, and franchise people that we are fast becoming. Everyone seems seduced by the latest cellphone, fast food, easy loans, and the quick kickback. The series is a homage to John Muafangejo—a Namibian artist, considered one of the best exponents of the linocut, who embraces the storytelling tradition in his work—complete with slasher gore, Z-grade gangster films, local politics, witch doctors, kids’ cartoons, MTV, penis-extension machines, arcadia, strip clubs, tabloid horror stories, and the lure of casinos. It’s about the universal themes of sex, love, violence, beauty, and things falling apart.

Found doctor's advertisement. 2010

I’d always wanted to make a moving linocut, as well as a pornographic film; in Black Up That White Ass II, I fused the two with biblical parables, historical battle stories, advertising, night clubs, chicken restaurants, and psychedelic dream dance sequences.

From left: Cameron Platter. Black Up That White Ass II. 2009. Pencil crayon on paper. The Museum of Modern Art. General Print Fund. Cameron Platter. The Battle of Rorke’s Drift at Club Dirty Den. 2009. Pencil and crayon on paper. The Museum of Modern Art. General Print Fund. Both works © 2011 Cameron Platter

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift at Club Dirty Den (2009) is part of a series of large pencil crayon drawings that act as studies and diagrams for my film Black Up That White Ass II (2009). The meditations behind this series are complex, far-reaching, and diverse. It is my attempt—as is all my work—to make sense of the chaos that is everyday life, in the best and only way I know how.

As you’ll see below, I’ve just completed a mini-series of large color drawings about the KTZFOS (Killer Transvestite Zebras from Outer Space) and the reasons why they have had to come to earth to sort things out. An excerpt from one of the drawings: On earth, where bad things happened all the time, it was the year 2010, and shit was totally, completely out of control. (e.g. the head of Interpol liked to shop for Italian shoes and drink cappucino with a known mafia drug kingpin…)

From left: Cameron Platter. Intergalactic Mothership Leisure Facility. 2011. Pencil crayon on paper; Cameron Platter. The Struggle Between Good and Evil. 2011. Pencil crayon on paper. © 2011 Cameron Platter

Currently I’m starting work on a series of large-scale carved wooden sculptures, which I call “craft-leisure crossover” works. These include a portable toilet/spaceship/pornographic DVD bar and cinema with a smoke machine and sound system; a dumpster/apartment/private casino; and a lounger with stock-market screens, complete with wet bar and weapons cache.

Cameron Platter. Sculptures For New Living. 2008. Installation view at KZNSA Gallery, Durban. Carved wooden sculptures. © 2011 Cameron Platter

Cameron Platter. ATM/Minibar/Soundsystem. 2008. Carved avocado wood, mixed media, found objects. © 2011 Cameron Platter

They’ll be shown in Europe next year, and relate to an earlier series from 2008, Sculptures for New Living, quasi-functional works for a postapocalyptic world.

I invite you to read further and see more of my work—including an in-process series of screenprints, titled Sex Slaves, which relates to the South Africa show—on my website.

Cameron Platter. Sex Slaves. 2011. Digital sketch for screenprint. © 2011 Cameron Platter