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Leon Botha: when Art is beyond what you see


You may have never heard of Leon Botha before. We didn’t either until we read Max Dana‘s last blog post she published a few days ago on her blog. With simple words, Max gets to the heart of the matter and tell us who is South African artist Leon Botha, his work and why he is so inspirational to her.

You are going to meet with a true artist.

Photo credit: Gordon Clark ‘Unity is Strength’
From The Who Am I? Transgressions photo series.


South Africa: enough about football, let’s talk about Art. A few days ago, as I was starting to write my new blog post about the 80’s, 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 in the video. 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 the most was his paintings of famous hip hop groups I was listening to back in the 80’s: 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 Bothawas 21 at this time, knowing very few people with progeria exceed 13 years of age. He’s 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 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’m not saying his disease doesn’t exist, but when you are strong enough, you can make any differentness 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. That’s why I say what Leon Botha does goes beyond his condition. It’s always easy to judge someone by their appearance than to look at a person for what he/she really is. I wish it was nothing new here but considering some reactions I’ve 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. Below is the video published 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 is definitely beyond what you see and I must say being an artist myself, he’s quite inspirational.




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