William Kentridge, ‘Casspirs Full of Love’, 2000, Joanna Bryant & Julian Page

This monumental drypoint refers, through its title, to a message sent from mother to son in a popular radio program for South African troops: "This message comes from your mother, with Casspirs full of love." Casspirs are armored personnel carriers; their name is an anagram of the abbreviations CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and SAP (South African Police), the organizations that developed them. These vehicles, designed for international military operations, were deployed against South African civilians during apartheid.

Medium Drypoint and engraving with roulette
Dimensions Plate: (148.8 x 81.3 cm); sheet: (166 x 97.6 cm)
Publisher the artist, Johannesburg, in conjunction with David Krut Fine Art, London
Printer 107 Workshop, Melksham, England
Edition 30 (17 printed 1989; 13 printed 2000)
Casspirs Full of Love – an etching on paper - depicts a structure resembling a shelved box containing seven severed heads. The title of Casspirs Full of Love was inspired by a radio message in which a mother wished her son in the army on the South African border ‘a good tour of duty’ and ‘a safe return’, sending the message ‘with Casspirs full of love’. A casspir is an armoured riot-control vehicle. They were used first by the South African army to protect its borders with Angola and Mozambique and later by the security forces to quell riots and demonstrations. The original drawing was made at a particularly turbulent time in South African political history. In 1985, as a result of increasing township violence, South African President P.W. Botha declared a state of emergency in some areas of the country. The security forces were given broad powers to arrest and detain suspects at will and the media was banned from documenting the racial unrest. The state of emergency was renewed every year until 1990 when President F.W. de Klerk began the reforms which led to the eventual dismantling of the apartheid system.
In significant international collections such as those of the Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, Johannesburg Art Gallery and Tate London.
The title comes from a personal dedication overheard by Kentridge on the popular radio programme "Forces Favourite", sent from a mother to her son in the South African security forces: "This message comes to you from your mom with Casspirs full of love". Kentridge's work captures the tension between the violence employed by the Casspirs and the message of love sent by friends and family to conscripts in the security forces; contradictions inherent in the apartheid state but somehow upheld in daily life. As curator Dan Cameron observes: "It is startling to see Kentridge employ [a Casspir] as a container for human affection, much less the victims of state violence..."
. The plate was created in 1989 and from it Kentridge printed seventeen sheets out of the projected edition of thirty. He re-worked the plate several times, resulting in variations within the edition. In 2000 the plate was shipped to Jack Shirreff at 107 Workshop, Wiltshire, England and thirteen further prints were pulled to complete the edition. These thirteen similar prints provide the final version of the image. The edition was published by David Krut, London. The etching was based on a poster-sized drawing Kentridge made in 1989, which was mounted on the façade of Vanessa Devereux Gallery in London on the occasion of his solo exhibition there that year. It depicts a ladder-like box of shelves containing seven severed, male heads. The title appears in sloping, cursive handwriting on the right side of the image running vertically from top to bottom. ‘What comfort now?’ is written in dots on the left side. Above the first rung-like horizontal partition of the box the words ‘not a step’ both confirm and deny the ladder-reading of the image. They suggest that the accumulation of decapitated heads is not progress, even though the head at the top bears the number 1. The two heads in the narrow, top partition appear to have more western features than those below, which look African. The structure represented by the box and its contents replicates that of the South African political system in 1989, when the country was still under the rule of the white-only National Party and its regime of apartheid (1948-94).

The ironic title of Casspirs Full of Love was inspired by a radio message in which a mother wished her son in the army on the South African border ‘a good tour of duty’ and ‘a safe return’, sending the message ‘with Casspirs full of love’ (quoted in William Kentridge 1998, p.163). A casspir is an armoured riot-control vehicle. They were used first by the South African army to protect its borders with Angola and Mozambique and later by the security forces to quell riots and demonstrations. The original drawing Casspirs Full of Love was made at a particularly turbulent time in South African political history. In 1985, as a result of increasing township violence, South African President P.W. Botha (president 1978-89) declared a state of emergency in some areas of the country. The security forces were given broad powers to arrest and detain suspects at will and the media was banned from documenting the racial unrest. The state of emergency was renewed every year until 1990 when President F.W. de Klerk (president 1989-94) began the reforms which led to the eventual dismantling of the apartheid system.

About William Kentridge

In his drawings and animations, William Kentridge articulates the concerns of post-Apartheid South Africa with unparalleled nuance and lyricism. In the inventive process by which he created his best-known works, Kentridge draws and erases with charcoal, recording his compositions at each state. He then displays a video projection of the looped images alongside their highly worked and re-worked source drawings. In this way, his process and aesthetic concerns are inextricably linked with the narrative power of his work, as in his “Nine Drawings for Projection” series (1989-2003), which depicts two fictional white South Africans navigating the ambiguities of contemporary South Africa. With his highly personal and often quiet works in seeming tension with the brutality of his content, Kentridge expresses a profound ambivalence about his native country.

South African, b. 1955, Johannesburg, South Africa