Monday, September 27, 2010


I was inspired by Reya's post ages ago that brought up questions of vanity concerning age and weight. I was reminded of it again today.

This morning an old acquaintance of many years dropped by to say hello on his way to the river to fish. Our families have interacted in various ways over the years and he is a respected headman of his village. But STILL.  The conversation went something like this:

Dickson  - Hi etc. etc.

Me –  More of the etcs. family/crops etc. Establish that all is going good in his life. Bleh bleh.

Dickson -  Haven't seen you since the funeral last year.  Have you been around? My, you look great – so fat. Really, much fatter since last time (points at my arm and clothes with admiration).

Me - Thanks a lot. Thanks very much. Yes I am well.

D – Well obviously you haven't been working very hard. So fat. 

Me – No, really. I have really. I'm working very hard.

D – (I hear him think to himself) Well obviously she's just sitting at her computer or pushing pigment around,  Not hoeing in the field or carrying firewood and water. Or getting infections. 

So I grin bravely and agree with every word. I am indeed apparently fatter.  And lazy too it appears.

I say goodbye then go inside to glance at myself in the mirror.

A few years ago I was at this bar/restaurant called Moondogs at the local airport with someone I had known from one of the early safari camps.  He began complimenting the barman whom we both knew on his youthful appearance. 

You know when things start going wrong socially and you think you can see it. And maybe even fix control-freak inner voice starts up. Well it does sometimes.

Old Camp Acquaintance (OCA) - Hi Daniel. This is fantastic. What a great surprise to see you here. Haven't seen you for ages.  My word, don't YOU look young. You don't look a day older than you did twenty years ago (or fifteen or whatever). You look so YOUNG. Honestly not a day over...bleh bleh.

Control-freak inner voice -  OK enough. Stop. Change the topic, dude.

Daniel – (sounding to Inner Voice quite irritated) Well I am not. I am a grown man. I am even a grandfather now you know.

OCA – Oh don't worry about that. You look really, really young. 

Inner Voice  – (thoughts only – no outer voice) Shit. Stop. Don't do that. Give him a break. Don't take the theme any further.

Daniel – (irritation obvious by now) Well I'm not young any more. I am fully grown.

Inner - Try another subject.

OCA -  ... look almost like a young boy. 

Inner -  Ooooo.

Daniel – (reaches for the meat cleaver) …

The walls, white only a moment ago, and the sparkling glasses are splattered with the fresh blood of an Englishman just like in Jack and Beanstalk ...

Not really.

OK one more - also today - more cultural divides in something called art. I was chatting to a man in the Zambian ministry of education. He asks me about my job - I try to explain about making art. I say that I do it more or less alone - not a very African concept for doing a job. He agrees. I point out that unfortunately I cant delegate - I have to do it all myself. He looks at me with something like genuine horror on his face. 

"What? Dont you have any friends?"


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Art Directors and Animals Made of Meat

A little while ago the head teacher of the local school gave me back the, by now, very tatty ream of A4 that I had given him to distribute for an art competition to provide material for a mural for the newly built sponsored  classroom.   

Judging art/oxymoron?  I know, judges bring their own briefcases of cultural, emotional baggage and so on. However. I opted out by making lots of winners  for a collaborative wall thing.

There are no actual art lessons here although its on the syllabus, and like lots of places art is the old joke topic that doesnt have that earn-a-living ring to it. Its a bit rural  and most people are on candle power, few solar. Any TV is strictly local.

Anyway they had no subject restrictions – anything.

Game viewing vehicles are a hot favourite and many, many boys know how to draw them. Hardly surprising, as they trundle past the classroom window once a day back and forth from the airport fetching tourists.

Certain boys collaborate and know the exact formula of how to draw them. Across the board they are usually drawn from a three quarters view.

Does the brain turn into a gobbling monster that noshes all our imagination at a certain age (12-ish) when we suddenly assume reality to be what we think it is? Anal  representations of the world with a 4H pencil at about puberty replace wildly  unconscious drawing gestures of the very young. Not knocking it – they are sometimes charming but more often trying far too hard to be 'real' or 'art'.


We have to go through delusions of reality I guess, but for me there was no contest...Mirrim Zulu six years old...check out these awesome if slightly mad animals... 

I liked hers the best which made a number of people including some teachers look at me as if I was a drooling, emaciated dwarf with rotting stumps for legs.  An artist friend, defending my choice said, “we artists spend twenty years trying to relearn how to draw like that”.  

Where did she see these things? Cant I get to see them too? The kids get taken into the Park occasionally. Which one did SHE go to? 

Mirrim Zulu and some others provided the creative design and the big dudes took over from there as Art Directors. They gridded up her and other's drawings to enlarge them onto the wall. 

Technical. Practical. The Art Directors had it all sussed. Sending smaller couriers to pass up refreshed pots of paint mixed by even smaller children labour, they ruled, bossing everyone around from an elevated perch with crowds of admirers below.

So I failed to quizz our lowly creator about her animals because she took one look at those huge boys and gapped it. Fast. 

She was small and intimidated by the number of male teenage testosteroned immortals who swarmed over the scaffolding and took over the wall painting because girls obviously cant climb scaffolds. 

Stoopid. Girls aren't even immortal.

Here are hers. Giraffe and lion or Jurassic Park?

Nice hey? Or am romanticizing again? But I like how they've all got FACES. Even the elephant. 

This from someone whose  language fails to differentiate between the word “animal” and “meat”. No faces there, ha. Meat face. Meat head.

What are these? More Jurassic animals? They have got to be prey with those sheep faces.

I think the bottom one is a hippo - her friend told me.

Hippo Face.

This youngster knows perfectly well  that hippos have Very Big Teeth. True.

The horny centaur is in fact another young artist's  elephant.

This girl's brother is obviously pissed off at the housework having to chop wood –  glaring at the girls. 

Perhaps that's his sister under the wheel.

SOME have a romantic vision - how are those stunningly essential line drawings of lioness and warthog? 

Others decide to allocate their artwork into the social consciousness bracket. 

Actually among the older boys there seems to be quite a bit of lion envy for their free access to meat. All that protein. This is probably the first generation of kids growing up in subsistence grain farming on the edge of this national park where hunting is really, REALLY forbidden and will be enforced by authorities that weren't in evidence before. 

So most of the village muzzle loading guns belonging to fathers and grandfathers lie idle (sometimes) because hunting is no longer allowed by  wildlife government decree. 


Well, catapaults, gangs of dogs and boys, reed woven giant rat traps dont really count do they? Easy to avoid the scouts on this. Millet grain nshima ALL the time can get rather carbo heavy. There are no butchers in the area because tsetse fly prevent the keeping of domestic livestock.

So there was quite a bit of focus from some of the artists on various meat cuts. Steak-house fare beyond the wildest dreams.

The vultures have a complete restaurant to themselves.

This chunk of carefully butchered steak belongs to the lion. 

Poachers manage to get tusks and even leave the meat (maybe later, I seem to be busy right now).

Two friends collaborated on this poaching scene. The carriers have bags full of horns/tusks etc. including dinner on the pole I guess. They are smiling with confidence but...

Dont realise what's round the next corner

Ha ha. 

None of the artwork is mine but the pics are.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Harbingers of Death and Destruction But it was OK in the End

Last week GK and I set out for Tanzania in order to sort out the recalcitrant vehicle I left behind before I bought my very adult new one. 

Starting off through the back route we went via ... actually I cant tell you via where, cos its a Deadly Secret. Its location has even been wiped off the GPS although Google Maps wont play. In this remote spot they are reintroducing animals with one (well, sort of one) very valuable and expensive horn. No, wrong. Not a unicorn. But a horn as expensive as rocking horse shit would be if there was a market for that. Enough to pay off the debt of a small third world country with one anyway. No, sorry not a minotaur either – they've got two horns, so wrong again. 

Anyway its pretty far from anywhere and really difficult to get to, but that's the way we went because we think its fun, possibly indicating a warped sense of amusement but there ya go. We bush-camped half way like snaggle-toothed hillbillies in the cathedral mopane forest, far from habitation, mozzie net strapped onto the back of the vehicle. GK was recovering from some awful thing whereby all his bodily fluids were leaking out of his face into about 15 bog rolls, leaving charming mountains of scrunched pink paper pushed under my seat. 

Now, being in a job that uses substances like turpentine quite a lot I am pretty careful about containers. I am aware of kids hanging around cold-drink bottles filled with paraffin or oven cleaner etc., so I had put the  paraffin for the hurricane-lamp into a plastic bottle with large scull and cross bones emblazoned all over both sides and the lid with thick black pen. 

However it was dark when he had his throat wide open for the handful of pills prescribed to stop the snot, took a huge gulp from the water bottle – not - and SWALLOWED twice quickly. Yuk. Spit gurgle, panic (me). 

I looked up into the tree and there were two two vultures staring down at us. Nice. What is it about these birds when they hang around? We know they act as pooh disposal units around villages but we were far from any. Illogical childhood perceptions about vultures came flowing into my adrenaline-frazzled head; “oh my God they KNOW something, they're waiting. He's poisoned and going to die, fuck what's that stuff coming out of his face? Holy shit its exploding brains, oh no its only snot...”

Really this picture does not show these sinister creatures very clearly. They may look like two little benign dots from my camera but close up they have a beady eye. I know that because I kept having to draw them once.

Anyway it was fine in the end. Well for me anyway, because I wasnt burping dragon breath laced with a petroleum byproduct all day and I didn't have the liquid paraffin effect to stop every five minutes in order to use up the rest of the thirty bog rolls. Those two bastards were still in the tree looking at us when we woke up, but the morning was bright and the rest of the day we drove through awesome amounts of forest. 

and crossed on the pontoon before meeting our friends for sleepovers who run the Deadly Secret Jurassic Park place . 

Before leaving there we flew in a four seater tracking the pricey unicorns that had microchips embedded in their scales while pterosaurs and teredactyles glided below. Not really – that was to put you off the track in case you are a poacher armed with darts, a chain saw and no antidote disguised as a tourist which is apparently the current form. Or in case you consider zipping in by helicopter, lopping off the said horn and floating off into the blue unknown as they did in a South African zoo recently. 

Goodness there are some interesting animals in the world and that's just two of them. (One hominid, one horned).

 Pity the beady-eyed velociraptor look-alikes don't have a solid gold diamond-encrusted beak or something. 

I'm kidding again, I love vultures, really I do.

All pics are mine except the scull and crossbones from the internet

Monday, June 21, 2010

Flooding and Foxing

I dont know why, but I really like this about where I live: 

Everything rots. But fast.

The decay process can be really, really fast especially at certain times of the year. You can watch it in action.

One minute you have a book in your hand and the next its desiccated termite shit.

I tried once to make an art piece out of this process - left a large painted paper heart out overnight a couple of times to be abused and savaged by termites. Waited waited, camera at the ready each new morning.


C'mon decay already.

That piece stayed resolutely untouched, but how come all those other papers carelessly left out were eaten in 2 days flat?

I was into hearts at that time and getting a bit carried away with that particular area of the torso

with domestic wooden spoon broken in a moment of pique and resurrected as a flaming heart

and with x-rays and light box

 for various reasons. Oh well didnt work out anyway.

Today, having to rummage through some old raptor research, I am amused as papers and photographs crumble in the hand, morphing into confetti, forcing a quick change of mindset about loss, albeit minor …. all the field work once so lovingly detailed; transects walked, fires made, stars tracked, grounds slept on, diagrams drawn.

Despite the storage tin trunks and ammo cases, it gets stuck together and ... foxed (the term, no?) 

Does a substance like paper get much of a chance here in this 'ere camp? 

Not really. It mutates into something resembling fine sepia table salt. 

Foxed big time. I dont think you would find that kind of foxing in the second hand collectors bookshops, no. 

Instead of the book there's suddenly a pile of ashy powder in your hands. 

You are sort of breathing it in. 


There is something cool about that.

A kind of circularity. The breath of dead dust. The oxymoron of breathing death.

You have to live damn quickly. Life being fast and fragile and all that.

Its a good reminder.

Like the Victorians obsession with morte moeri, the death and decay reminder in the form of embroidered samplers for maidens.

Young women especially were targeted by the mind-police and offered judgment, scorn and homilies.  

They said, “..ha, ya think ya pretty? Young? – well you better be MORALLY GOOD because there is no compensation - only disintegration and decay ahead. Your flesh is going to go green and you will rot to death. Bitch.” was the  Victorian subtext.

Anyway – decay. No wonder people in most rural villages here have no storable wealth. It gets noshed. Why bother?

Of course it's an issue in art debates - collecting original artifacts and art, exquisite or sacred wooden things and removing them from their ancient heritage into a museum. 

Or just letting them get eaten by termites. 

Exploit or preserve? 

Collecting things is an extraordinary European habit exemplified by the Victorians with their glass-fronted “Curiosity Cabinets” of exotic things from the exotic colonies. Curios.

Dont get possessed by your possessions is what my dad always said and did. 

Its tricky. Or liberating. Or a cop out. 

Not sure.

But this in-your-face process of constant spoiling…it sure keeps reminding us about the physical, the corporeal - about death and decay speeded up. Fast.

Better also deal with it in fast motion. I quite like that.