Book Review – As sharp as a sushi knife

2011-01-16 00:00
Adriaan Basson
Anton Kannemeyer’s latest collection of ­satirical drawings ­titled Alphabet of ­Democracy will no doubt offend, amuse and disturb.

In the foreword to the glossy 72-page book of sketches and prints, Andy Mason compares Kannemeyer’s work to that of cartoonist Zapiro.

The difference, says Mason is that: “Kannemeyer’s art-making process is contemplative and leisurely”, while Zapiro’s is “intense, deadline-driven”.

But both are as sharp as sushi knives and have no regard for holy cows, particularly in the form of
politicians and the politically correct.

The sketches in Alphabet of Democracy were drawn between 2005 and last year and are, according to the book’s publishers, “an illustrated A to Z guide to the absurdities of life in the democratic South Africa”.

Kannemeyer’s art is not overtly funny or upsetting.

Instead, it navigates that fine space between harsh social commentary and colourful entertainment, leaving the viewers to decide for themselves the meaning and impact of the works.

One example is his sketches of white suburban fears titled “N is for Nightmare”.

Here Kannemeyer ­borrows from Belgian cartoonist Hergé’s Tintin drawings, depicting black people as savages with big lips, guns, pangas, serving the heads of their white bosses with potatoes and mielies.

The work is offensive, but so is suburban racism, and isn’t that ­ultimately the role of artists in our society? To hold up a mirror in which we see ourselves, warts, racists and all?

There is a pathetic feel about his two sketches on farm murders.

In one titled “C is for Crying Farmer” a stereotypical white farmer holds on to a smartly-dressed black man, probably a government minister or MEC who tries to console him but struggles to show empathy.

The other titled “J is for Jack ­Russell (lying with dead farmer)” ­depicts a dead farmer, covered with a blanket, and his Jack Russell dog ­lying in a foetal position next to the corpse.

Kannemeyer is a fine observer – often the media’s coverage of farm murders highlights the images of the comforting (black) politician, and the dead farmer’s dog.

He’s not telling us what this means, but starts a thought process that challenges the viewer to make sense of this contentious ­phenomenon.

Themes of corruption and conspicuous consumption run throughout Alphabet of Democracy.

“F is for Fat Cat” Khulubuse

Zuma; “I is for (an) Innocent!” Alan Boesak and his laughing wife Elna, and “G is for Good ­Health (to black economic empowerment)”, showing two business partners, the one black and the other white, both dressed to the nines, drinking champagne.

Three of the more disturbing images in the book speak to xenophobic and vigilante attacks.

“V is for Victim of Vigilante Justice” shows a bloodied man with tied hands and cut marks all over his body.

“X is for Xenophobia” is a depiction of the iconic “burning man”

picture of Mozambican Ernesto Nhamwavane who was burnt alive in Ramaphosa informal settlement in 2008.

The angel of death says to Nhamwavane: “You’ll be happy to know that race played no part in this decision, it was purely geographical.”

Others who feature in the book are President Jacob Zuma, Eugene Terre’Blanche, President Robert
Mugabe, Hansie Cronjé, Mama Jackey Maarohanye and Pam Golding.

Alphabet of Democracy is not a relaxing read, but an engaging one that will make you think and reflect. It won’t leave you untouched.