Roger Ballen’s New “Aslyum” Series and the Photographs Behind his Rap-Rave Video

When South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord allied with photographer Roger Ballen, the result was a YouTube sensation. With over 41 million views to date, the music video for the single “I Fink U Freeky” is a feat of art and music collaboration, translating Ballen’s iconic psychological photography into the perfect backdrop for the group’s unique sound. Now, Ballen’s black-and-white photographs from the shooting of the viral video are available in an online exhibition, through London’s Hamiltons Gallery, in addition to a new series, “Asylum.”

Born in New York in 1950, Ballen has lived and worked in South Africa for over 30 years. His original motive was to become a geologist, which he pursued, delving into South Africa’s diamond, gold, and mineral mines during expeditions that have influenced his photography.  Describing his photography career as “fundamentally a psychological and existential journey,” Ballen creates black-and-white images that originate through his unconscious, and reflect his efforts to define himself. Ballen often includes the use of other media like drawing, sculpture, and his own photographic drawing technique, which is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Smithsonian. Ballen’s works are often (mis)interpreted as dark or disturbing; he explains that this reaction is a result of the viewer’s own psyche and the way his works confront the audience, calling them to look inwards to their own darker sides.

When Ballen first met Die Antwoord—comprised of vocalists Yolandi Visser and Ninja and producer DJ Hi-Tek—in 2005, a mutual respect and artistic attraction was immediate. It wasn’t until 2012 though, that they properly teamed up for a project, the five-day shoot in Johannesburg to create “I Fink U Freeky.” The black-and-white scenes featuring Ballen’s iconic imagery—all installations, drawings, and objects were made by Ballen himself—effectively bring his photographs to life, with Die Antwoord as protagonists.

In his newest series, “Asylum,” Ballen’s formalist approach shines in scenes where his drawings and sculptures take precedence alongside alongside a lively cast of animals, most prominently, birds. Ballen says of the works, “On closer inspection, the images can be seen to elicit metaphors from the interaction of the birds (a symbol of purity, heavenliness, freedom and peace) with the space characterized by chaos, darkness and human detritus.” The dynamic, visually stimulating works find a sense of calm amongst chaos, offering universally legible scenes for the audience to interpret.

Works from “Die Antwoord” are available for purchase on Artsy.

Roger Ballen:’Works from ‘Asylum’ & ‘Die Antwoord’” is an online exhibition at Hamiltons Gallery, Jan. 9–Feb. 5, 2014.

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