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To many people, Ralph Ziman is known for his work as a director, producer and writer in the film industry, having worked on films such as Jeruselema, Hearts and Minds as well as having directed over 400 videos for artists such as the late Michael Jackson, Ozzy Osbourne, Rod Stewart and Shania Twain. This time Ziman shows us his artistic side, with his first solo exhibition entitled GHOSTS. According to Ziman, “the AK 47 is incredibly iconic weapon that is loved, revered and fetishized in Africa”. It is sung about in struggle songs, it is found in the hands of rebels, gangs, dictators and pirates and even appears in Mozambique’s national flag. Inspired by the international arms deal in Africa and the devastating consequences it has had on the continent, Ziman uses the GHOSTS series as platform to shed light on the clichés of the modern arms trade and its effect on the continent.

We sat down with the South African artist to find out more about his solo exhibition.


Is this your first exhibition?

I’ve always worked on art but it’s always been personal and it has always been an escape from my more commercial projects and making films. It seemed like there was so much enthusiasm to do it (following the success of the murals he did in Venice).


Why name your exhibition GHOSTS?

There is a hidden and anonymous aspect to the arms deal. No-one really knows who is running the operation. All you see is the crates from various countries that get delivered to African countries. Also the victims/civilians killed are also faceless so that also adds to the anonymity of it all.


What made you want to do this project?

I spent so much time in inner city Joburg and doing research for Jeruselema and other projects. I was fascinated with how everyone was interested in guns. I was fascinated by it and I wanted to explore it. And I was fascinated at how all over Africa every country has money to spend on weapons but not education and healthcare. The international arms trade goes in one direction – into Africa. I thought if we could do something where we reverse the trade, make beaded guns and ship them back to the West, and we did that. Some of the guns were bought and were shipped to various European countries and the US.


How did the creative process start with GHOSTS? When were the pictures taken?

The photographs were taken a year ago today. I started working with the [Zimbabwean artisans] in January 2013 and we took the pictures six months later. By then we had made about 200 colourfully beaded guns and all the ammunition. The ammunition was done by women in Mpumalanga. We did two sets of bullets; ones with AK47 bullet casings and ones with plastic irrigation piping. We did the photo shoot in inner city Johannesburg in an empty demolished building.


Did you direct the participants?

Directing is letting people go and the amazing thing is that people know how to pose with guns. It was a little bit of “let’s try this” and that but it was interesting to see how people hold guns in different ways. People in South Africa hold guns differently; it’s more loose and casual.


Any future plans or upcoming exhibitions?

I’m thinking of making a documentary about war-torn places and speaking to the victims about their experiences. The documentary will no doubt tie in with the GHOSTS series.


The exhibition will run at Muti Gallery from 24th April to 18th July 2014.


3 Vredehoek Avenue

Oranjezicht, Cape Town.