Roger Ballen


R. BallenFor the second time in a very short period, it comes to Rome from South Africa a very dense, moving artistic contribution.  I am talking about the photographs by Roger Ballen one still has the opportunity to see as part of the collective exhibition “International Festival of Photographie”, going on till January 11  2015, at the MACRO Museum which is one of the few contemporary architectures in Rome, in itself a pleasant place and a perfect frame where to enjoy Art.

Through the arranged settings inside the “Asylum of the birds”, the artist is able to reveal the secret, awful reality beneath the appearance of the world, whether this appearance be the one of a human being,  the one of an animal or the one of the setting itself in which they are caught.  As if the “matter” would be the husk concealing the invisible, made to break its thin wrapping to emerge in its unpredictable,  uncanny presence.

It is this terrible presence of something whose power and direction is unfathomable,  the presence of raw life at the core of every being that hasn’t been loved and without love couldn’t be educated,  that Roger Ballen sees embodied in the “Asylum of the birds”.

The “Asylum of the birds” is an enormous shack in the outskirts of Johannesburg,  close to a rubbish dump,  where homeless and animals of various kind live together along with many birds.  A place which is a refuge, a nest, a den, and a home but also a sort of ghetto for all those banished by the “society”, the outcasts. A kind of prison without bars, where people abandoned to themselves regress to a primitive form of life.

Thus Roger Ballen, merging into this patchwork of rough “matter” of which he senses the deep voice, its chant and lament, the complex nature of its existence,  the various levels of meaning involved in it, shows us the shortsightedness and consequent cruelty  of the human society that

through different forms of apartheid and wars incessantly reproduces exclusion,  sufferance,  abandon, fear, loss.
Along with this great capability of lending a possibility of a touching, loudly silent expression to the world of the outcasts, Roger Ballen is also able to let come to the surface elementary, basic ways of relationship of the humans to one another or to the world.

By means of his astonishing powerful images,  he lets us clearly feel how much of each of us is to be found in this lost humanity,  not only as her

Heritage of previous eras or ages,  but as concrete possibility of regression to it in the future if we don’t take care of what is always only  temporarily achieved.

It is only given to great souls and minds to get in touch without losing oneselves with such an incandescent reality, to draw out of its enchanted poetry, the subtle quality of a beauty that comes out of ugliness and desperation.

Falling and flighing,  of them, of us, an upward movement towards the sky symbolized by the birds whose vitality is irrepressible,  and of our ever si

Once crazy  human life epithomizes the unpredictability and the everlasting tension towards the freedom of the open space. Even if, as we see at the end of the short movie that accompany the photographs  and to the comprehension of them  is an unmissable part, Roger Ballen’s distrust in the wisdom of humanity shows itself in the final sequences in which we see birds having their heads cut, running crazily around, to  end being grilled with their feathers and happily eaten…

Paola Bargigli
Certified Guide of Rome