"You were very drunk at your exhibition opening the other night," said Chris Pretorius to Wayne Barker in a 1989 breakfast interview for the Vryeweekblad. "So were you," replied Barker. "Pass the butter."

"Art has no value any more - not since Andy Warhol. Warhol is more important than his art," said Pretorius later in the conversation.

"The artist has a very important role in society," replied Barker.

"And his art?"


"More gin?"


The truth is that despite being prone to rugby tackling bad artists, despite his working class heroism and deceptively unprecious breed of street expressionism, Barker had always kept one eye firmly on the packaging and promotion of his work and his concepts. A few years later, he would have fewer problems than many of his contemporaries adjusting to the sometimes brazen careerism of contemporary art in post-apartheid South Africa.

Three Bodies of Love
In 1992, with backing from the Everard Read Contemporary Gallery, he set about creating a huge new body of work, churning out pieces from his studio in the old Speedy Bag Factory alongside Johannesburg's Indian market district. In the slick display of Three Bodies of Love at the Read Contemporary, the opposite extremes of Barker's experiences had been more boldly resolved than in any of his earlier work.

Near a lurid sex doll encircled in neon hung a series of dusty, sensitive portraits of friends in oil. Some of the rough ready-mades hanging on the Pierneef series had been dipped in bronze, turning by-products of the street into highbrow art objects and dirty spades into proletarian mini-monuments. The same pop alchemy happened to the Winky Dolls - bushy little natives made in China once favoured by white South African schoolgirls. "I wanted them to be taken as seriously as all the other bronze monuments in the country."

Slave Bodies
By far the most popular girl at the Read's opening party, though, was Zulu Lulu - "the newest swizzle stick sensation". Displayed in uncharacteristically fierce colour schemes, from across the room Barker's multiple "slave paintings" were deeply seductive. From close up, they revealed themselves to be bigotry on a stick.

He had come across the 50s-designed product in a sex shop and replicated the package on large canvasses. It needn't have worked, but Barker is possessed of an instinct able to turn a pack of bad sex joke swizzle sticks made in Hong Kong into a South African pop art showstopper with a poignant take on racial tyranny and cultural commodification. It was the revenge of the Golliwog.

Bigotry on a Stick

Wayne Barker: Artist's Monograph
Vienna Calling
60's Suburbia
Johnny Rottenism
Anyone for Tennis?
Fourteen Days in Hell
The Bad Art Attacks
The Famous Five do Downtown
Fragments of a Murder
Have you Hugged a Fascist Today?
Landscape with Target
Blood Money
Le Monde a L'envers
Bigotry on a Stick
The Heart of Neon
Divorce in Paradise
The South African Thing
Storming the Ramparts
The Wax Hand
A Love Story
Frankfurt in Latex
The Talking Curio
Back to Basics
Dirty Laundry
A New Kind of Freedom
Photo Credits & Works