Strangers in G-strings

Downtown Johannesburg and the makeshift studio on the third floor of the Carlton Hotel teems with squirming bodies.

I am still getting used to the idea of hanging out in a room full of strangers wearing nothing but g-strings and layers of paint. But, even through the flesh and billowing smoke and visibly frayed nerves, it is hard to miss Brendan van den Berg’s model – a tall, muscular queen decked in latex, oozing techno-trash.

Van den Bergh’s entry in the 1997 Flight of Fantasy body painting competition was inspired, I learn, by the electronically funked-up sounds of Native America on the CD Sacred Spirit.

The artist set out to work with the idea of Western civilization (particularly America) and how it steadily manipulates and colonises its indigenous cultures. His end result is titled Evoking the Spirit: kind of part cyberborg part “man-who-runs-with-the-wolves”.

A spiky crown and silver body sport a virtual junkyard of dead technology. Microwave fans and circuitry define the body’s left side. The right remains naked, capped only by a crown of flowing locks. In a world where piercing and tattoos are like second skin, it makes sense to drag the art out of its frame and make designs on a body canvas. Plus it fits the artist’s theme of disposable culture. You get to wash it all off the next day.

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