Updated: Leon Botha died from complications of progeria on 5 June 2011. My post about it here.
South Africa: enough about football (BLK JKS, Amadou & Mariam and Angélique Kidjo live from Soweto) let’s talk about Art. A few days ago, as I was starting to write my new blog post about the 1980s, I visited the website of South African group Die Antwoord and I really liked their music, a mix of conceptual rap-rave mutant hip-hop style. I especially appreciated “Enter Ninja” and then I watched the video on Youtube. An image immediately caught my attention: it was Leon Botha. I recognized him right away. Two or three years ago, my friend from South Africa told me about the first exhibition of South African artist Leon Botha, ‘one of the world’s oldest survivors of progeria’. But what I remember most is his paintings of famous hip hop groups I was listening to back in the 1980s: Public Enemy and Run DMC (I will mention them in my next blog post). Of course, everyone’s main attention was on the artist’s condition but since I already knew what progeria was, I didn’t really care about it, although I was surprised by the fact Leon Botha was 21 at this time, knowing very few people with progeria exceed 13 years of age… He is now 24.
So when I recognized him in the video of Die Antwoord, I checked Leon Botha’s website and then I saw the amazing photo series Who Am I? Transgressions, a collaborative work with photographer Gordon Clark. I really appreciate the artistic work they have done together and Leon surpasses his condition and even goes far beyond. It is Art and he is part of it. Everything is so coherent you don’t even bother asking yourself questions about what you see. Leon said: ‘For me it was a case of showcasing myself. I wanted to break down barriers and all the preconceived perceptions’. To me, he really did that. I am not saying his disease doesn’t exist, but when you are strong enough, you can make any differences into a strength that transcends appearances and relegates them to the background; it is still part of you no matter what you do but then you can exist by your own. This is why I say what Leon Botha and his art go beyond his condition. It is always easy to judge someone by their appearance than to look at a person for what he/she really is. I wish there was nothing new here but considering some reactions I have heard about this photo series, I guess there is still some way to go.
The Who Am I? Transgressions show was at the João Ferreira Gallery in Cape Town in January 2010 and I hope it will travel outside South Africa. You can watch the video on the Mail & Guardian Online website: Transcend and Transgress. Please check Leon Botha’s website and Gordon Clark’s to know more about them.
It has nothing to do with fame, money or transient buzz some creative people are so desperately looking for. Leon Botha is an Artist. His Art definitely goes beyond what you see and I must say being an artist myself, he is quite inspirational.
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