Choice. Click. Bait: An interrogation of the politics of power
Carla Busuttil’s latest exhibition, titled Choice. Click. Bait, deals with local issues around private security. The artist has created a fictional security company, Mosquito Lightning, as a vehicle to explore the real and perceived dangers of exclusion.
In the show at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, there is a security shed for the guys from Mosquito Lightning and a mock promotional video showcasing their work – specialists in protecting: lives, assets, data and truth.
“Defending your territory, lie detection and interrogation” is the company’s marketing message in Busuttil’s Orwellian nightmare.
“I see private security guards as a reflection of society and I wanted to create this alternative platform to engage with this everyday reality, but seen in a new light,” says Busuttil, who is based in the United Kingdom.
The hired guards of the wealthy form a convenient springboard to the work of actual mercenaries.
Having lived outside the country for the past decade, Busuttil seems to be looking at the quirks of South African suburban living from an outsiders’ point of view – focusing on the everyday things “that South Africans take for granted”, she says.
“For someone coming from overseas it’s quite strange. The people living in the UK needed some explanation. I was surprised that so much context was needed for the works.”
The works bear witness to the exclusion of poor people from wealthy areas “and it’s a kind of comment on it”, Busuttil explains.
The title of the show, Choice. Click. Bait, alludes to the way in which images of violence, or terror and war, wealth and poverty are viewed through an online prism … or prison. Images speak to a viewer for an instant in cyberspace before they move on to the next one.
Busuttil threads together paintings of private security in South Africa, mercenaries and refugees, taking in colonial history along the way.
The exhibition succeeds in creating a tangential, fragmented view or collage in her attempt to make sense of the past and present.
“To me it’s all connected,” says Busuttil, reminding us that many apartheid-era policemen and veteran ex-mercenaries led the private security revolution in South Africa. “I think about the stereotypes.”
Her work, A Weak Link Indeed, quotes the mercenary Simon Mann’s account of Mark Thatcher’s attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. “He wanted to be one of the boys. Gain power, impress his mum. He turned out to be a very weak link indeed,” it reads.
Her familiar, alien-like masked characters come to life and leap out of their frames in the show.
“My work deals with the politics of power and with that comes issues of race and gender, and it’s important to engage with those things. And I find that a way into those issues is to try and neutralise the figure and hide the gender, hide the race. But then the issues are still there, they’re just underneath,” behind the mask.
“The way I’ve painted before, the figures always have this mask-like aggressive style. The only way to transport my painting style into physical beings is to actually make a being. I’ve made them so that they look like the characters have stepped out of the paintings.”
The Credo is one of her characters and represents Lord Milner and his manifesto for justifying the South African War (1899-1902) and Britain’s colonial mission. Dredging up this past is something that has not been done enough, Busuttil argues. Referencing the #RhodesMustFall movement, she adds: “It’s not enough to acknowledge African culture.”
The images she has chosen are designed to shock and inspire awe. Complex meanings lie beneath the surface and are revealed in bite-sized chunks. Quotes she has jotted down attempt to make sense of the media noise like a riddle.
She presents a snapshot of the internet, violence, insecurity and the state we’re in right now … or was it yesterday?