|Had you visited Trade Routes, curated by Okwui Enwezor at the Electric Workshop for the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale, and made your way towards the back and up a floor or two you would have looked down upon The World is Flat - a stark and astonishing sight.|
Barker's huge new piece was a map of the world constructed from 3 000 army uniforms and 2 000 green beer bottles. At the southernmost tip of Africa was a neon sign reading VOC - the logo of the DutchEast India Company (DEIC).
It was the DEIC's commercial fleets - heroes of the apartheid history books - that instigated South Africa's earliest colonial land wars and forged a trail for the Boers to eventually settle in the interior and claim a republic. In 1652 the Cape colony was established by the DEIC when the trading company set up a refreshment station under Jan van Riebeek - to stave off scurvy on the voyage north. Soon enough the indigenous Khoikhoi people were enslaved, beginning a campaign of resistance in 1659. The station would become a British settlement and a military base would be established at its heart, today known as The Castle of Good Hope.
For Barker it was a milestone and a political victory. Particularly considering that in order to construct his work - in the very first room ever built at the Castle - he would have to request materials from the army. In 1995 the Defence Force was trying desperately to incorporate the former resistance armies into its ranks. "I had to negotiate with them," says Barker. "I told them it's all about forgiveness."
Today Barker says that "Scurvy" was the first time that he began to think globally about his work. That he was looking at identity.
What were his own colonial origins? Was the VOC logo - the first multi-national logo in the world - a bit like the Coca Cola logo today?
In a press release for "Scurvy" he added: "Is this how we see the world through the media? Through a flat plain of images?"
|Storming the Ramparts|
Wayne Barker: Artist's Monograph