Introduction for Vetkat Regopstaan Kruiper’s Exhibit
I. Murphy Lewis, March 12, 2005
Parts of my self stolen by others
Parts of my self that disappeared
Drowning in the white waters of the Zambezi,
Wandering sad, lonely in the streets of New York,
Crying in the shower, nubile
and yet, tainted,
Bound and gagged in Africa.
Parts of my self attached to men
with hunger and longing,
to women for a sip at the well.
I call back to me.
I embrace them:
the memories, the dreams, the tall tales, the tears.
Parts of others I have held onto
I return to the rightful owners.
I blow these parts into rocks
and throw them into the ocean
wrap them in packages
mail them across the world.
“Parts of you,
that don’t belong to me.”
I pull back
parts of me
that don’t belong to you.
I search the world
for brother parts,
for lover parts.
Piece by piece
until I find
the natural order
until I find my work
my life’s calling. (Lewis)
“The story is like the wind. It comes from a far off place and we feel it.” Spoke Xhabbo a Bushmen, 130 years ago to the late Dr. Willem H. I. Bleek and Dr. Lucy Lloyd. In her tell-it-like-it-is poetry book, Born in Africa, But, Malika Ndlovu sings,
Every story knows its teller, Every story has its time.
There was once a river that ran through the heart of an historic land, not too far from ours. If we could hear this river speak, it would reveal many stories and secrets of the people who lived along its banks. (9)
Today, if we listen carefully we may hear stories from afar, secrets from a people. We can sit by this river, this gallery and drink our fill of life as seen from the eyes of a man from the Kalahari.
For several centuries now, people have longed to know what the ancient painters of the rocks and walls of this vast continent were expressing. In the last twenty years or so, the Bushmen of the Kalahari have shared their artwork in galleries across the world. And finally, at last, we have the opportunity and the honor to see the work of Vetkat Regopstaan “Stand up right” Longlife Kruiper.
Before I talk of Vetkat’s drawings, I want you to know a bit about him. I have not known him long. I first met him in America six months ago at “The Gathering,” a Journey to the Heart sponsored event for healers from all over the world. I found him standing with his wife, Belinda and his cousin, Izak, behind the kitchen smoking cigarettes. I was shocked and disappointed in my fellow Americans that here they stood, the first people of the world and no one recognized what value they were and are to all of us.
And it struck me that here was my dream of a few weeks ago, in living color, two Bushmen sitting outside my garden. I had wondered why they would not come in. At that moment, Izak, Belinda and Vetkat stood to shake my hand and they looked into my eyes in such a way that I felt they knew everything about me. I told them of my dream and they laughed and replied, “It is what we do as Bushmen; sit back, observe, and watch, in fact, that is what we have been doing since we arrived in America.” I then thought of their trickster god, Mantis who sits quietly, reverently as though in prayer. This god has captivated my heart since the first day I heard of him in Sir Laurens van der Post’s book, The Mantis Carol. And so, began our friendship.
This last month, I have come to be with them in the Kalahari, to stay with them on their land, to talk, to see how they live in the 21st century, to learn about Vetkat’s art. As we sat around the fire at night, I realized that his artwork comes from a deep well and is as alive as his story telling. I liken him to the son of Mantis, the rainbow, Kwammang-a, there, and yet, not quite there. The first night as he began his tale he said, “I am not a Bushmen. I would like to know a Bushman, but I am not a Bushman.” And of course, we all laughed.
After I had read one of the old Bushmen stories to him that were collected by the Bleek’s, I asked for his comment. He replied, “These are the stories you tell. I might tell them differently and so might someone else, for there is a story within a story, within a story, and another one around that one.” And then, Vetkat pointed to his brain and said, “This is my computer, a bit slow, but my computer.” Of his ears, he replied, “My tape, my music of which to hear.” Of his eyes, “My camera.” And then I held my hand to my heart and said, “What of this?” He too, placed his hand over his heart and said, “This is my story, and when I am dead I shall tell you of it.”
“Do I have to wait until you die?”
During this whole discussion he had been listening to drums in the background, the rhythmic beat which has been known to move the body into an alpha theta state, a trance. He stopped the conversation and replied, “I must write a letter to the Kalahari. She is calling me this woman.” And I knew there was a voice calling him out of the darkness, that it was time for him to draw, to speak the words that needed to be spoken. I left him at peace with his pens and his paper, and the voice of someone far greater than myself.
Today, as you observe his work, you shall meet that which has been churning in Vetkat’s mind since childhood. As you walk through the gallery, you shall meet these stories that lie deep in his heart. You shall meet the reweaving of his story, of his people’s story, of all the people of the world’s story. It is the art of a man deep in thought, of a man who has journeyed into worlds many of us may never enter. And in each piece, one realizes this man is not only drawing, he is working, moving across the divide to the divine. To stand in front of each piece, is to stand in reference at the altar, to meet that which is greater than one’s own being.
In the drawing “Sacred Dance #2,” each level is the movement of one step to the next, following the ropes, the threads through the rainbow to the other side to find the answer, the key, the medicine needed. It is that of a continual dance, the trance dance of his people danced over and over again to heal the wounds of their society, to heal sickness, to heal the imbalances of the world.
It is the art of a shaman. Sometimes we forget that the shaman’s path is one of dismemberment, the falling apart and coming together again and again. For it is true, the healer must know all the parts of himself, before he can help us know our own. This movement through his drawings, is a journey each of us can take, to places where all those parts of the self can be found and recovered. Parts that have been stolen by others, abused, isolated, parts that have been left, or have gone astray. The artist calls back these parts. Sometimes Vetkat places them in utter chaos, guns, violence; the chaotic state where all real creativity stems from, where new ideas are born. Sometimes he gently places them in order, until the whole world makes sense once again.
In “The Tree of Life,” Vetkat writes, “Light is good. God sees. Come my children, come. Come home. The doors are open. Come, my child.”
These drawings are the continual dance of Vetkat, a living artist and descendent of the ancient painters of Africa. He has discovered a passageway through life into death, through his own connection, through his drawings, through his people’s quiet and yet, cacophonic lives in the desert. He leaves us the option to follow, to fall into the trance dance of life. Strange, that this artist, that this inspirational work comes from the great thirst land, and feeds our souls.
For me, he has given me water at the well. He has shown me that he dances as his people danced to hold the world in balance. He has moved me to find a way to publish his works, to continue my work on their stories. Vetlat has inspired my writings and this poem:
We must fall, fall deep into our story
There the well is deep
Deep enough to draw from
Resources, which never end
Deep, deep, deep
Then we can crawl back out
Lips wet, moist with possibilities
To face the unending, never-ending
Questions that beat upon our brain
A true knowing.
I don’t know.
The German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote;
To try to love the questions themselves (…) Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. Perhaps then, you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. (Rilke 25)
Fall into the work of Vetkat Regopstaan Longlife Kruiper.
Works Cited: Rilke, Rainer Maria. Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties. Translation, John J. L. Mood, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.