van der Merwe, Hentie


Namibia, b. 1972; lives and works in Darling, South Africa


Broadly engaged with the issues of masculinity, identity, and representation, Hentie van der Merwe's photography condenses these themes in a number of works focusing on militarism and the fetishization of the male body. In an earlier installation, Untitled (1997), van der Merwe reframed a series of World War II images of South African confederate soldiers stationed in Namibia. These clinical photographs of nude white soldiers taken against a plain ground, with all the trappings of medical review, are presented by van der Merwe in a grid, yet visible to the viewer only through their reflection in a mirror. Rather than a catalog of military might, the subjects waver between powerful and vulnerable, and our access to them as pure image, as reflection, pits pressure on our collective desire to project an essence on them. 

His series Trappings (2002–2003) raises related questions but reverse the terms, focusing on clothing rather than the nude body. Again returning to an archival source, van der Merwe photographed nineteenth- and twentieth-century military uniforms in the collection of the South African National Museum of Military History. Drastically blurred through the use of a hand-held camera and extended exposure times, the garments, fitted to headless mannequins and tightly centered within the frame, refuse the legibility explicit in uniform and military decoration. Unanimated by a soldier's form, van der Merwe's Trappings refocus our attention on the problematics of the militarized body, both tethered to and wrenched from the violent history of military conscription under apartheid.

Artworks by van der Merwe, Hentie

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