“Control”–Spoek Mathambo dir. Pieter Hugo and Michael Cleary

This is a music video to South African Spoek Mathambo’s cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control.” The video was directed by famed South African photographers/cinematographers Pieter Hugo and Michael Cleary. My initial interest in the film lies in its similarity to Jean Rouch’s genre of ethnofiction, especially his 1955 short film, Les maitre fous, in which Rouch, using as his subject the Hauku movement (a ritual performance of mimicry and dance in which the participants become possessed by colonial administrators), recreates the ritual through a fictional narrative allowing the camera itself to take on a role in the performance. The camera, as both the observer and the agent, deconstructs the meaning of representation.

Representation—that is the crux of Spoek Mathambo’s music video for “Control.” Hugo, as a photographer of “African” life (famed for his images of Nollywood), has faced criticism from Nigerians who claim that his interventions as an artist result in representations that regress to the colonialist idea of Africans as savages. Mathambo, himself very sensitive to the crucial point of representation, worked with Hugo on “Control” to offer a new representation of street gangs from the slums of Cape Town. What we end up with is an aesthetic rush; frantic imagery in a stark color scheme of black and white that builds in tandem with the music begging a climax but ultimately unfulfilled. The video looks at ritual practices (the graveyard, the head shaving, the dancing) through a series of surreal images. Mathambo himself has claimed the video to reflect a “speculative fiction” of “African” society, and asked if “accuracy [in this case] is important?” This video addresses the importance of the auteur in self-representation and cultural voices, while never forgetting to ask who it is that has “control.”

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