Transforming Terror into Art

  • Posted: Mar 17, 2017

Covered in thousands of coloured glass beads, it looks like a harmless ice cream truck, but the shape of the vehicle parked outside of the Iziko South African National Gallery is unmistakable – Casspir! Anyone who spent time in South Africa in the 1980s shares some history with the Casspir. And for many of us who encountered these formidable military vehicles in their “natural” environment, the mere sight of it is enough to re-awaken a sense of dread.Titled The Casspir Project, the vehicle forms part of the Women’s Workexhibition, which is on view at the Gallery until the end of March 2017. Make a visit to the Gallery and this relic of the past a part of your Human Rights Day commemoration. Visitors enjoy FREE ENTRY on 21 March 2017. See more on the making of this fascinating project at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GKVll51uyU&t=15s

Artist Ralph Ziman’sThe Casspir Projectcharts this South African military vehicle’s legacy of institutional oppression ­– a legacy with which we are still reckoning. The central element of the project is one of reclamation­ – a restored and refitted Casspir vehicle, its surfaces fully covered in elaborate, brightly-colored panels of glass beadwork, arrayed in traditional patterns and completed by artisans from Zimbabwe and the Mpumalanga province of South Africa, including women of the Ndebele tribe, known for their craftsmanship.

“Casspir” is an anagram of the acronyms SAP (South African Police) and CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research). Designed in South Africa in the late 1970s and brought into service in the early 1980s, the Casspir was used extensively by the apartheid-era South African Police, as well as by the South African Defence Force. Bulletproof and mine resistant, this robust military vehicle was used extensively in urban township areas in South Africa against civilian populations. By the mid 1980s, the Casspir was the face of apartheid oppression in the townships of South Africa, its mere presence a form of terror.

For South African born artist Ralph Ziman,The Casspir Project is a means by which to confront his own past and the country he left behind; and through the act of beading this symbolof oppression, it is an effort to reconcile a history of devastation and foster a dialogue of where we are going, and what kind of world we want to live in once we get there. 


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