The Protean and Unsettling Universe of Roger Ballen

This article originally appeared on beautifulbizarre.net

If one thing is certain, it is that the art of Beautiful Bizarre Magazine issue 007’s featured photographer Roger Ballen will get you out of your comfort zone. In the work of this South African photographer, the ratio of beautiful and bizarre is indeed unstable. Few artworks in contemporary art can boast to be at the same time nerve-racking and highly fascinating. The work of the popular photographer is an apnea of beauty and an exploration of the unconscious at the limits of madness and humanity.

For this 67 years old former geologist, “photography is like going down to the mine”. While looking for ores, Ballen found a much more interesting material… human stories. He soon became famous for his crude photography of Afrikaners in their interiors. His first portraits caused quite a stir and were deemed controversial and voyeuristic. The images portrayed South Africa’s misfits in their poor social conditions, with visible damages of consanguinity, yet, they revealed their luminous personalities and genuine creativity.

If many described the universe of Ballen as repellent, the word actually released from its negative meaning with the strange aesthetics of the artist. The chiaroscuro of his square pictures is balancing life and death, decay and joy. They are proving that we can find harmony even in misery, and that innocence is the true gift of human beings.

With the years, Roger Ballen has gone deeper in his exploration of these odd and personal worlds hidden inside our world. The evolution of his “documentary fiction” started to include drawings, graffiti, paintings, collage and sculptural installations. He also made short films and has recently released an animated film called The Theatre of Apparitions. After finding human nuggets, the artist has started to refine them, to stage them.

In mainstream culture, the artist is certainly famous for his collaboration with South African band Die Antwoord. His video for their song “I Fink U Freeky” has gone viral and introduced his unique sense of aesthetics to the world. The naive art visible in the short film, with murals and body art in the singer Yolandi, is now a recognizable signature of Ballen. These simple forms, a bit childlike, express complex themes such as psychological and existential topics. Enigmatic and unsettling, they reveal the intimacy of both the artist and the beholder.

Over time, the work of Roger Ballen has become more abstract and human models are more and more replaced by animals, especially with taxidermy. Reality is giving way to fantasy, to deeper mysteries. Currently, the work of the artist is exhibited in Paris, at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, with collaboration pieces with fellow artist Hans Lemmen. His aficionados are also eagerly waiting for the next book release of publisher Thames & Hudson in September 2017, Ballenesque : a Retrospective, a journey inside the troubling world of Roger Ballen.

Are you excited yet? We are.

The Protean and Unsettling Universe of Roger Ballen
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