Ralph Ziman (b.1963) is a South African contemporary artist born and raised in Johannesburg, and currently living and working in Venice Beach, CA. He works Working in a range of media that includes sculpture, photography and murals, his mixed media works often incorporate South African traditional beading.
Ziman's work tackles national politics such as the legacy of Apartheid South Africa, gun trafficking, child soldiering and trophy hunting -- topics that extend into global conversations and activist efforts around militarised policing, gun policy and human rights.
His multidisciplinary work, which began with a photographic and installation series entitled ‘Ghosts’, and a public art project and global awareness campaign ‘The Resistance Project’, challenges the tumultuous occurrences that rupture in the shadows of the African continent. Ziman sheds light particularly on the increasing international arms trade that has fuelled the continent's cycles of war, corruption and impoverishment.
“While spending time again in Johannesburg, my birth town, I was horrified by the crime and the proliferation of weapons, the ease with which they can be acquired and the fascination the culture has with guns in general and the AK-47 in particular. The ways that struggle songs lionize the gun. The sound the gun makes, the look of it. I wanted to find a way to explore the subject.”
Traversing the lines between the alluring and unsettling, his use of saturated hues and intrepid gestural figures brandishing replicas of the AK47, result in evocative visual compositions; ‘shocking, beautiful and sad’. The AK-47, a symbol of perceived power and struggle is estimated to have claimed over one half of a billion deaths in conflicts since its conception.
Ziman subverts this iconic artillery through embellishing and recreating it with Africana visual signifiers. Employing traditionally inspired beaded artistry, beads which historically served as a trade good, he illustrates the degree to which weaponry has violated not only the past but is pervasive in the current ‘everyday’.
Ziman's latest work, The Casspir project is currently on view at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town.