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Christo doherty, aryan kaganof
Lamentation/Klaaglied
Doc. expérimental | hdv | couleur | 18'0'' | Afrique du sud | 2015
Blackface in a film about a secret war Experimental SA documentary challenges hidden memories of a faraway and forgotten fight Blackface and South Africa’s secret border war are exposed and explored in a poignant and troubling new film by Christo Doherty and Aryan Kaganof, which was shown in Cape Town and Joburg (South Africa) for the first time in June 2016. For 23 years from 1967 to 1989, young white men were conscripted to kill and die for apartheid during a long deadly war on the border of Namibia and Angola. In 2011, Doherty presented his ground-breaking BOS exhibition of constructed miniature models and blackfaced conscript portraits based on the rare photographs leaked from the conflict zone, often at great risk to the photographers at the time. Described by its directors as an ‘experimental psychic documentary’, Lamentation is a filmic response to Doherty`s BOS exhibition of physical suffering,traumatic memory and the border war. Doherty and Kaganof’s 18-minute film is a formal meditation on the traumatic memory of an illegal war in which tens of thousands of young white South African men were forced to participate and uncounted numbers of black Namibians were killed or injured. It is a contemporary attempt to explore one of the unexamined aspects of apartheid’s military misadventures, a conflict which killed and injured unknown numbers of civilians and well as soldiers and left a generation of men and women traumatised on both sides of the conflict. The film makers are not afraid to challenge and to shock. And they stress that the film is about memories and understanding for all participants and victims of the border war, not only SA soldiers. Lamentation’s delicate musical score, by leading South African composer Michael Blake, accompanies the camera’s slow movement up the uniformed chest of a solemn white model with painted black face, cutting to scan a miniature scene showing the mutilated corpse of a black Namibian civilian alongside an armoured SA military vehicle. Throughout the film, the disconcerting and shocking imagery is presented through an insistently choreographed interplay of cinematography and sound design. “We know this is difficult material, but interpreted and constructed images in art are an important way to reflect on a war which we don’t think South Africa has fully dealt with,” Doherty says. “Many white men, including myself, firmly shut the door on their army days, yet the SADF was a dark formative experience which we need to expose and understand.” White soldiers: black faces The filmmakers’ portrayal of white men in brown army uniform with black faces sparked controversy in South Africa, but the use of this make-up was a survival mechanism in the war. The blackface device in the film and in BOS is based on the combat body paint used as camouflage in the Angolan bush by apartheid’s soldiers, ironically known to the white troops as ‘black is beautiful’. “White faces painted black are currently taboo, but were very much part of a conscripted white soldier’s experience during South Africa’s war in Namibia and Angola,” Doherty says. The photographs in BOS, and now Lamentation, use re-enacted representations of this wartime practice, together with miniature reconstructions of scenes of battle and violence, to probe the psychological and ethical transformation of young men who joined in an involuntary battle against a hidden enemy. Beautiful music: origins of a difficult film The film emerged through Doherty and film-maker Aryan Kaganof`s mutual involvement with the hauntingly beautiful music by South African composer Michael Blake, Tombeau de Mosoeu Moerane(2011) for soprano birbyne and 5-track (or 2-track) tape. Written in homage to the little-known South African black composer Mosoeu Moerane, the film score features Lithuanian clarinet virtuoso Darius Klysis playing the birbyne, a simple keyless wooden wind instrument. The conclusion to the film is underscored by an extract from another composition by Michael Blake, his String Quartet No 1, performed by The Fitzwilliam String Quartet. Cinematographer Eran Tahor’s beautifully choreographed and achingly-slow camera movements match the cadences of Blake`s music and provide a powerful visual sense of the isolated and estranging experience of South Africa’s war on a distant and dangerous border. The editing and sound design by Aryan Kaganof bring together the music and the cinematography with strands of found audio, including a voice softly singing fragments of "Die Stem van Suid Afrika", the old National Anthem.
Christo Doherty Christo is Associate Professor of Digital Arts in the Wits School of Arts at Wits University. He is a photographer and artist with a keen interest in the visual representation of conflict and trauma. He was conscripted into the apartheid army at the age of 17. Aryan Kaganof Aryan Kaganof is a South African film maker, novelist, poet and fine artist. His extensive filmography includes Threnody for the Victims of Marikana, Decolonising Wits, Western 4.33, and Nicola’s First Orgasm. Aryan left SA aged 19 to avoid conscription into the apartheid army.