Andries Fourie’s artwork is welded to his identity as an immigrant from South Africa – and more specifically with the Afrikaner culture he grew up in.  He moved to the US in 1989 after serving as a conscript in the South African Army at the height of that country’s civil war.  When he arrived in the US, Andries enrolled in art school at Sacramento State and later earned his MFA from UC Davis.  His art has been a way for him to attempt to resolve the conflicts within himself as the work critiques and celebrates Afrikaner culture.

It would be easy for an artist to create art that attacked and ridiculed a racist government and culture, but Andries does not take the easy way out.  He is a product of that culture and through his sculpture and assemblages he is engaged in a serious search for truth.  Over the past several years, his search has taken him not only back to his hometown of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, but also to Patagonia, Argentina, where many Afrikaners, including Andries’ grandfather, immigrated at the turn of the 20th century. He’s also traveled to Namibia, which borders South Africa and gained its independence from it in 1990.

I visited Andries in his studio at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon where he teaches sculpture.  I’ve known Andries since the fall of 2006 when we both moved to Salem.  I arrived in this quiet capital city after ten years surrounded by artist friends in Washington, DC and was relieved to meet Andries right off.  We spoke the same art language and I enjoyed his use of found objects and assemblage.  There was a refreshing funkiness to his forms that he combined with well-crafted wood work.

His studio is a cluttered, low-ceilinged space  that seems more like a laboratory than an artist’s studio.  One wall is equipped with a chalkboard covered in notes written in both English and Afrikaans. The tools he uses to create his art – welders and saws – are in the adjoining teaching studio where much of his work is made.  Overhead projectors, lights, screens and inks are all piled about that are used for his silk screened images.

The sculptures I saw during my visit were for an upcoming exhibition at the Salem Art Association.  They incorporated instruments used in traditional Afrikaner music (a fiddle, a concertina, and an accordion), that had been placed under steel cages and mounted atop tall wheeled platforms.   The cages were welded from ¼” steel rods and constructed with small portals or openings at the top, not quite big enough to fit your hand through.  They serve both as metaphor and form nicely.  In fact, the merging of concept and form is a constant balancing act for Andries.  He clearly loves the material he works with and his poetic steel lines are ably juxtaposed with the powerful subject matter he’s addressing.

The wheeled platforms are also made from steel rods and are influenced by the intricate and elegant toy cars that the children, who lived in the townships that Andries once patrolled, made from discarded wire and other found objects.

The identity politics infused in Andries’ art strikes me as very different from much of the identity based art that comes from American artists.  It doesn’t take an affirming, righteous, or victimized stance – largely because his work does not come from the perspective of an oppressed minority, but rather the minority oppressor. The guilt and shame of Afrikaners is not a topic of much sympathy, but it’s one that Andries explores head-on, delving into the psychological carnage that is the legacy of oppression.

Andries told me his paternal grandfather, who was uneducated and spent his life working in the dairy business, was the only person who understood the references and imagery in his art without explanation.  Andries told me he was his “audience of one.”

Reconciliation and redemption are a driving force for Andries. This month he is traveling once again to Namibia, this time as a cultural envoy from the US State Department.  He will exhibit a new series of assemblages and teach a workshop for art teachers from around Namibia on making art from found objects and non-traditional materials. Those teachers will then return to their rural communities and incorporate Andries’ teachings into their own curriculum.

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