No idle racism

Anton Kannemeyer's new Bitterkomix collection Pappa in Afrika deals with the controversial and uncomfortable topic of racism.

First Published in

Racism is not a popular topic for the arts or even idle conversation. However, even since his early days of Bitterkomix, Anton Kannemeyer has never shied from topics that make the viewer feel uncomfortable.

Published by Jacana, Pappa in Africa is a collection of Kannemeyer’s more recent gallery work and shows a shift from the angry, disillusioned young Afrikaner of Bitterkomix. Portraying himself as an older version of the classic colonial cartoon figure of Tintin, the shift is from satire of the Afrikaner to broader satire of the continued post-colonial irony of Africa.

There is a risk in this, as essayist Danie Marais points out in the book. “While laughing at the jokes, I found myself wondering if they weren’t exactly the kind of jokes the racist ooms around braaivleis fires might find funny.” Marais goes on to compare Kannemeyer’s work to the work of American poet Tony Hoagland, in light of an otherwise dearth of engagement with the topic of racism in the arts.

However, he concludes, while Hoagland can be criticised for self-justification and redemption, Kannemeyer offers no equivocation. Kannemeyer’s work is relentless in accessing the root of racism: A portrayal of fear that will “provoke nervous, self-conscious laughter from any viewer of a leftish, progressive persuasion”, as Marais puts it.

Indeed, whether your conscience is clean or not, Kannemeyer’s work has an uncanny ability to make anyone feel complicit – whether they find it funny or not. Pappa in Afrika is oh-so-calculated, disarming and riveting.