Willem Boshoff has had an extraordinary life. He was born in 1951 and raised in Vanderbijlpark, a town near Johannesburg. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, his childhood was shaped by the twin conservative forces of school and church. As a young man, he rebelled against the apartheid church system and became an anti-apartheid preacher and ‘spiritual terrorist’, first in cities across South Africa, and later in the military (with some difficulty – when his views were discovered, he was relegated to a job peeling potatoes). He studied art and went on to teach at Technikon Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, where he began to make works that marked the emergence of conceptual art in South Africa.
During the mid-1980s, while working stripping paint from untreated wooden doors and fire surrounds, Boshoff unknowingly began to suffer from lead poisoning, an illness which was to shape his life and artistic output for the next twenty years. Unable to sleep and suffering from intense pain, he channelled his frustrations into an encyclopaedic practice that resulted in the production of fifteen dictionaries, among other works. He became an expert on botany, lived a monk-like lifestyle, and entered a period of spiritual questioning, concluding that God both did and did not exist.
In 2005, the poisoning was discovered, and a year later, Boshoff underwent a course of chelation treatment to remove the lead from his body. At the same time, while reading up on druids, he realised that for the last two decades his life had been distinctly druid-like, even down to his near-death experience. Since then, he has continued to live life as a druid, going on druidic walks which inspire conceptual installation work that has been shown internationally.
Need I say more? For a rare chance to hear Boshoff talk about his life and artistic practice, get yourself down to Tate Modern on the evening of 14th May. It’s free.
To book a place, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 14 May, 19.00 – 20.30
Tate Modern, East Room (arrive via the Café 2 Entrance)