|The Johannesburg Art Gallery, a grand old building in downtown Joubert Park - and once the epicentre of the city's cultural life - now found its collection of European masters increasingly hemmed in by taxi ranks and hawkers, betting totes and whores.|
To Barker, the ironies littering the pavements on his daily walk from street culture to high culture - from the Fig to the JAG - were plentiful. Hawkers in the shadow of the Stock Exchange; swish fashion stores alongside street barbers; squats built from cardboard boxes emblazoned with product logos that guaranteed they'd wash your whites whiter that white.
Inside the gallery, Barker had been scrutinising the Pierneefs.
Jacob Hendrik Pierneef was a formalist painter of landscapes who had - throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s - been endorsed by the Afrikaner state. A good part of his job had been to provide government department buildings with outsized canvasses of a rigorously stylised and sanitised South African countryside. Throughout his career, he had been active in the Afrikaner Broederbond, a cultural movement established in 1918 that quickly evolved into a highly secretive brotherhood for the Afrikaner elite. Working in tandem with the Dutch Reformed Church, the Broederbond was instrumental in promoting the apartheid policy. It pulled the strings of parliamentary puppets right up until its members were named in the press in 1993.
Now Pierneef's paintings became the canvas on which Barker worked.
In Pierneef's world view, wrote Unisa art historian Nic Coetzee, the land was given to the white man by God and it was the white man's duty to bring order to a barbarian continent. He did so by a process of selecting certain elements favourable to the vision of the country held by the Afrikaner elite and ignoring those deemed unsightly. Pierneef's neat white homesteads showed no signs of the underdeveloped black locations lurking just beyond the frame.
Barker took what was behind the scenes and put it upfront. On to his meticulous copies he placed brassy, unprecious pop imagery - ready-made commodities and oil-painted targets, soiled proletariat spades and bleeding African curios.
The works bristled with relevance and Barker no doubt expected them to be greeted more favourably than they were by the art establishment. Though today considered a pivotal entry in the country's contemporary art record, at the time the works were overlooked by a string of competition judges.
Where others may have accepted defeat, Barker decided instead that it was time to turn up the heat. But first, he would have to take a day job.
|Landscape with Target|
Wayne Barker: Artist's Monograph