n De Arte - Oppositional positions : Brett Murray's resistance of power : themed section : power and visual culture

Volume 51, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0004-3389



Art in South Africa has a very particular history of resistance, largely beginning in the mid-twentieth century as a means to protest and expose white racist governmental processes and practices. More recently, however, socially engaged art has addressed far more complex expressions of power and its invasiveness. One artist whose default setting has remained oppositional throughout his career, is Brett Murray. A socio-political critique is at the heart of his work, with the deconstruction and exposure of unequal power relations having become his defining feature. This article traces the strategies Murray has used to resist power, and what he perceives to be its gross abuse, by looking at three works produced at different intervals in his career: Policeman (1985/9), Memories and Heroes (1995) and Triumph (2015). I argue that Murray's work is most successful when it is ambiguous, allowing disquieting truths to surface and resonate uncomfortably for the viewer. In this way, he presents an opportunity for the viewer to deepen her/his engagement with the socio-political, and initiates what Anthony Downey (2014) might call 'politics proper'.

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