Udongo. At first, the word doesn't find a correspondence in the European vocabulary. But its sound creates images from Africa and locates Udongo between straw-and corrugated metal sheet shanties, agriculture and oilcans, mysterious rituals and corruption. In front of the spectator's mind's eye a surreal African village grows, composed of imagined and mediated images, starting at anthropologic studies from the 19th century, via expedition reports, to photo spreads of child soldiers in political magazines.
The Dutch Jasper de Beijer collects these images and their origins. He constructs subjects in his large-scale photographs, on behalf of which one can read the dichotomy of urban African tradition and failed modernization through colonialism. A car tire serves as a fireplace and the music for the voodoo magic comes from a ghetto blaster. The artist deals with the European colonial history and the construction of foreignness and history as well as their intermediation in our cultural context. A theme which connects all of the series «Buitenpost», «The Devil Drives», «Cahutchu», «Heroes and Ghosts», «Le Sacre De Printemps» and «The Riveted Kingdom».
De Beijer interprets colonialism according to the Latin root »colere«, meaning, »build/cultivate«. In a reference to his memories of a journey to Africa and to his (later in an interminable research) collected sources, he proceeds to build three-dimensional miniature landscapes in his studio, fixating them photographically at the end. The artist participates directly and physically with the arrangement of the characters. Next to an almost life-sized doll, which he puts in different positions and photographs, de Beijer also puts on an ape costume or a whole-length mask himself. As an actor in front of the camera he also works as a performing object in his scenery-like studio landscape.
The striking sceneries in Udongo are created with montages on the computer as well as with the help of built stages. De Beijers characters and spaces grow together digitally. But the pictures do not deny their nature as a construction and staging.
Even though giving a very stage-like impression of the displays, they do not lose their realistic effect that much. The scale of the works, lighting and composition integrate the spectator immediately into the events: in a room with misty backlight, a man sits at a table with sunglasses, flanked by two other men. The table is drawn to the edge of the picture, opening the image towards the space of the observer and marking the barrier between construction and reality. De Beijer consciously quotes those aspects of media image creation, on which our credibility is founded. The young Africans chasing away on their pick up truck seem just all too familiar.
Similarly to Valentin Mudimbe, who described the African cultural area as an invention of the European worldview, Jasper de Beijer presents an Africa that rests at the periphery of imported goods and »natural nativeness«. De Beijer's Africa blooms on the ground of a staging. Ground is called »Udongo« in Swahili. The artist examines distances in all of his works. Events and locations of his subjects are either far away or happened long ago or both. He exposes the act of bridging through intermediation as a criterion of construction. Without judging himself the artist undermines clichés by making use of them, and in that emphasizes the potential of manipulation of media images. Jasper de Beijers nine-part series "Udongo" can be seen at TZR Gallery Düsseldorf from September 4th 2009 on.