Garth Erasmus: Virulent Strain


Garth Erasmus (b. 1956) is a visual artist and musician whose work focuses on SA’s indigenous people, the KhoiSan, which is his heritage. He taught at the Zonnebloem Art Centre, District Six in Cape Town, from 1982-1997. He is one of the founders of Greatmore Street Artists Studio, and the Thupelo Artists Workshop. One of his large-scale mural artworks is included in an installation depicting first peoples of the Western Cape at Artscape Theatre, Cape Town. His audio installation, Autshomato, is at the Robben Island Museum (Nelson Mandela Gateway, Cape Town). Garth is part of the activist music & poetry group, Khoi Khonnexion, who toured European music theatre festivals in 2018-19 with the production House of Falling Bones on the Namibian genocide of the Nama people by the German colonialists. He is also part of the free-jazz groupings As Is and Riempie Vasmaak. Garth co-published a conversation with Valeria Geselev in 2019, ‘The knots of time and place’ & engaged artistically with a text by Cornelius Cardew in Herri Issue 3 <>. Garth’s sonic collaboration with flutist Esther Marié Pauw enacts forms of decolonial aesthesis, and interventionist curating amidst publics, institutions, art, and music-making. During the Covid-19 Lockdown Garth initiated the Africa Open improvising collective to play weekly Zoom sessions. Garth is also a member of the Khoisan Gypsy Band whose theatre production Die Poet – Wie`s Hy? on the work of Adam Small won Best Production at the Stellenbosch Wordfees Festival 2020.

About his 2020-2021 multimedia work Virulent Strain, Erasmus writes: Decolonisation is firmly foregrounded across the multiple mediums in which I work. Film as a medium is new to me. The isolation and solitude of lockdown allowed me the time and space to explore basic film-making skills using the iMovie App for cell phone. Virulent Strain is made up of four short films set to music that constitute the four chapters of the work. In the first two chapters it is the audio that inspires the image while in the last two chapters the image inspires the music. Chapter one contains an example of a local WhatsApp voice message that went viral in the first few weeks of lockdown when people were flouting social distance rules. This voice is an identity marker for the indigenous people of South Africa, the KhoiSan. The anonymous voice speaks in Afrikaans in the strong accent and vernacular of the people of Namaqwaland. It is a vernacular characterized by an abundance of colourful (and ironic) humour and swear words of which the word “Kontsekjind” is a classic example that can roughly be translated as “son of a bitch” or “motherfucker”. In this extract the speaker is strongly venting his anger at those breaking lockdown regulations where he stays but also at the police who ride by and do nothing. Virtually every second or third word that he utters is a swear word! The second chapter contains the cell phone audio that my friend Jethro sent me of his verbal altercation with police during a lockdown protest in his community and the sounds of his being shot later with rubber bullets during the same protest. Jethro is my colleague in the band Khoi Khonnexion. Chapter three focuses on the shaman in indigenous culture as the communal healer or medicine man in the context of the time of Covid-19 plague. Chapter four is a meditation on place and the hurts inflicted by colonization.