11 may – 01 july 2017

Fried Contemporary is pleased to present an exhibition by Willem Boshoff opening Thursday 11 May from 6pm-8pm.

Willem Boshoff was born in 1951 and grew up in Vanderbijlpark, a town on the the Vaal River, 75 kilometre south of Johannesburg in the Gauteng province of South Africa. His father, Martiens, was a trained carpenter and Boshoff grew up with a love for wood and respect for technical expertise.

Currently Boshoff is based at his home and studio in Johannesburg. Emma and Willem, his two younger children, are in school in Aberystwyth. His two older children live in Johannesburg, where Karen works as a graphic designer and Martin as an industrial designer.

Under Henrie Pretorius, an inspired teacher at high school, he decided to become a sculptor when he was fifteen years old. His decision did not meet the approval of the conservative elements in his old school and he was only allowed to formally study art if he simultaneously followed a teaching course. This proved to be valuable because he delighted in subjects of psychological and philosophical emphasis.

Willem Boshoff’s academic career spans a period of more than twenty years and he is a former head of the Department of Fine Art of the Technikon Witwatersrand (now University of Johannesburg). His qualifications include an honorary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg. He is a renowned teacher and although he has been a full-time practicing artist in South Africa and internationally since 1996, he still retains strong ties with many academic institutions. He still regularly acts as external examiner in the fine art departments/faculties of, amongst others, the University of Stellenbosch, the University of Cape Town, the University of Pretoria and Rhodes University in Grahamstown.

Boshoff decided not to exhibit his artwork in a public gallery until he was thirty years old and had his first exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 1981. His major works include KYKAFRIKAANS (1980), an anthology of concrete poetry, the Blind Alphabet Project (1995), Writing in the Sand (2001) and Garden of Words (a project in progress since 1982). His work has been shown extensively in South Africa and internationally, notably at the Johannesburg Biennale; São Paulo Biennale; Venice Biennale; Havana Biennale; the Museum for African Art at the Smithsonian, Washington; the Triennale für Kleinplastik in Stuttgart (where he was awarded the Ludwig Giess Prize); Museo Nacional, Centro de Arte, Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam; White Box Gallery, New York; MUseum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen; Galerie Asbæk in Copenhagen, Sonsbeek Internationaal, Arnhem, Netherlands and Art Unlimited at the Basel Art Fair. He won a Golden Loerie award in cooperation with Ogilvie International for his artwork Abamfusa Lawula (1997).

Boshoff has delivered guest lectures on the interaction of the visual and audio arts at various universities and he has published numerous essays and articles. He derives pleasure in a collection of avant-garde music, Gregorian chant and ethnic music. He spends much of his time compiling dictionaries and his first, A Dictionary of Colour was written in 1977. These dictionaries often form the basis for his artworks. Some are A Dictionary of Perplexing English, Beyond the Epiglottis, What Every Druid Should Know, Dictionary of Manias and Phobias, the Dictionary of Morphology, the Dictionary of–ologies and –isms, A Dictionary of Beasts and Demons, as well as the Dictionary of Winds, and the Dictionary of Obscure Financial Terms. He also visits all major gardens in the world to do research for his Garden of Words and Big Druid projects.

Willem Boshoff’s art career can be followed in Ivan Vladislavic’s biography Willem Boshoff (Taxi-011. Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing, 2005) and Warren Siebrits’s Willem Boshoff: word forms and language shapes: 1975 – 2007(Exhibition Catalogue, Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg 2007). Johannesburg: Standard Bank Gallery, 2007. To learn more about Willem Boshoff consult the website willemboshoff.com or launch a “Google” search for him on the internet.

*first published: https://www.willemboshoff.com/about

Willem Boshoff, Homage to Kurt Schitters, 2013, 2500 mm (height) X 1285 mm (width), Wood and various sands, Text: ‘HOLY SHIT’

Willem Boshoff, Homage to Kurt Schitters, 2013, 2500 mm (height) X 1285 mm (width), Wood and various sands, Text: ‘HOLY SHIT’


Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters (20 June 1887 – 8 January 1948) was one of the historical mainstays of DADA, the avant-garde European art movement of the early 20th century. Schwitters believed his Merzbau installations to be the major contribution of his life’s work. They consisted of jumbled interiors assembled haphazardly using rather voluminous everyday objects.

The word merz derives from the second syllable of the German word Kommerz (Commerce), and it is strongly revered by Dadaists for its close relation to the French merde! (shit!). Raoul Hausmann concluded that Merde is the Dada attack on society values.

The DADA movement deified coincidental inconsistencies: Tristans Tzara, one of its leaders proclaimed seriously:

Dada is this; Dada is that; Dada is this;

Dada is that; Dada is nevertheless shit.

Yes, DADA stood in awe before the ‘shit’ of life, and especially before the havoc that such ‘shit’ might cause. It should also be noted that Sterculius, the Roman god of excrement, presides over all stercoraneous issues – in Latin stercus is ‘dung’. In this spirit of reverence, I refer to Kurt Schwitter’s ‘shit’ as ‘holy shit’.

*first published on https://www.willemboshoff.com/product-page/homage-to-kurt-schwitters



Willem Boshoff, Ambush, 2014, Small wooden blocks, pruned snippets of large twigs and branches, charcoal, 3080 mm (width) X 1880 mm (height) X 52 mm (depth), Previous names: Pruning the Bush, Cutting a bush down to size, Work fumigated

Willem Boshoff, Ambush, 2014, Small wooden blocks, pruned snippets of large twigs and branches, charcoal, 3080 mm (width) X 1880 mm (height) X 52 mm (depth), Previous names: Pruning the Bush, Cutting a bush down to size, Work fumigated

AMBUSH (2014)

I have often travelled to Great Britain, or traveled to America (notice difference in spelling) and I had good opportunity to ask my friends over there what they thought of the 2003 Iraqi invasion by America and its allies.

Over time I’ve made some condemning artworks on this sad theme. FLAG I and FLAG II (2003), War and Peace (2004), what is our oil doing under their sand (2004), SAU aus USA (2011), CRUSADE (2011).

When I first started making these works in 2003, there was keen support for the Iraqi invasion (2003) and I did not have much approval for my efforts. Now, however, after so many lies have been exposed, many of the former supporters are speaking in utter disgust of the war effort, of those who had instigated it, and in particular of British prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, and, of course, George W. Bush, former President of the United States of America.

Some countries, like Indonesia, were so upset by George W. Bush’s charade that they held their own war crime tribunals and found him and others guilty (in absentia) of gross violation of human rights and war crimes. My own contention is that George W. Bush, Tony Blair and their former members of staff should be held accountable for their declaration of war on Iraq and for the mess that it has left in Iraq.

I believe Saddam Hussein, so-called evil dictator, had committed war crime atrocities long before the 2003 war. These well- publicised brutalities were keenly supported by America at the time with military and other aid. Ironically, at his trial, Saddam’s old transgressions were held against him by his own people under coercion of his former ally, America. Please see a number of enlightening YouTube entries for the full coverage – Saddam Hussein execution (or hanging).

I am a pacifist and therefore against capital punishment. When Saddam Hussein was executed, I was shocked by the gross unfairness of it all and it occurred to me that they were hanging the wrong man.

I once offered a prominent South African politician a thousand rand from my own earnings if she would only bring me the name of any ‘terrorist’ who worked under Saddam Hussein. So far I have not received any names and I still have my money. Strange, that in a country now overrun by ‘terrorists’ there were previously none. Saddam Hussein, unlike the leaders of so many other countries in the region, did not tolerate terrorism. Since the American occupation and withdrawal, Iraq has experienced daily suicide bombings, with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and scores of other insurgents gaining a stronghold, followed by ever-increasing religious faction fighting.

The work AMBUSH was conceived while cutting and pruning the ‘bush’ around my home. I used to sit for days on end next to my pile of garden refuse, making sure that what was once unkempt ‘bush’ would be reduced to buckets full of small sticks. All this time I was thinking of how one might bring a sense of fairness to the Bush debacle and to a country that has needlessly been reduced to ruin and rubble. Added to this is my surname – Boshoff – loosely translated from the Dutch it means ‘bush, law court’.

The artwork AMBUSH is intended to plead for a fair trial in which George W. Bush and others will face their accusers.

Willem Boshoff 2013

*see willemboshoff.com for more



Willem Boshoff, Dark Xylophone, 2014, 144 Sculpted black wooden sticks (Dalbergia melanoxylon), fabric, steel, Base: 2151 mm (length) X 670 mm (width) X 715 mm (height), Black sticks: average length: 310 mm

Willem Boshoff, Dark Xylophone, 2014, 144 Sculpted black wooden sticks (Dalbergia melanoxylon), fabric, steel, Base: 2151 mm (length) X 670 mm (width) X 715 mm (height), Black sticks: average length: 310 mm


Mass-production of pointless objects for curio markets in Africa (See Death of African ART) presents some problems. The wood of DARK XYLOPHONE was ‘rescued’ from offcuts left behind by those who turn out masses of wooden objects.

African blackwood or zebrawood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is found in shops and ea markets all over Southern Africa in the form of curios – mostly animals, trinkets, pseudo- ritual gurines and masks. Although the street vendors sell the wood as ‘ebony’, it is actually registered under the name zebrawood in South Africa. ‘Zebrawood’ derives from the strong black-white contrast of the heartwood, which is almost black, and the white-yellow sapwood. The wood has a hard, elastic texture and thin pieces do not snap easily.

Zebrawood occurs from east Eritrea along eastern Africa to South Africa’s Mpumalanga province. In the north it grows in a band from Senegal to east Eritrea. The tree is threatened in parts of its native range, especially to the south, by its overuse as fuel and by the craft/ tourist market.

My enduring attention to the slivers of zebrawood was due to the fact that I wanted to bestow utmost care and respect upon that which could end up as firewood. I was attempting to ‘save’ the splinters by laboriously cutting away at the worm-eaten sapwood. The more durable black heartwood could then be salvaged. After removing the damaged parts, I was left with a bunch of sticks which I honed and sanded to perfect smoothness.

I once made a similar work called STOKKIESDRAAI using camelthorn (Acacia erioloba). The act of sitting still for months on end in sympathy towards something that appears to be lost, might be considered futile. For me, however, it provided many hours in which I could clear my head and find ideas for making new artworks.

Interestingly, South Africa’s darkest wood is black ebony (Euclea pseudoebenus). This small tree grows in the dry river beds of the far Northern Cape, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Many years ago I was given a small stump and discovered that the wood is not at all as elastic as zebrawood. In fact, when sanded, it gives off a ne black powder that stains one’s clothes and hands. Although black ebony can be used to make small wooden items, I have yet to find it in craft markets.

Willem Boshoff