Under the sign of the rat; Roger the Rat by Roger Ballen

Surreal, refined, disturbing: Roger Ballen has made a name for himself with his special eye for what is usually considered minor or outside, yet is nevertheless profound and touching.

Roger the Rat; The new book by Roger Ballen published by Hatje Cantz. Surreal, refined, disturbing: Roger Ballen has made a name for himself with his special eye for what is usually considered minor or outside, yet is nevertheless profound and touching. 

In his hands, the documentary power of the camera merges with the ingenious power of his imagination to look into a person’s soul and get under the viewer’s skin. Elaborately produced between 2015 and 2020, his new book has been published by Hatje Cantz and is titled  Roger the Rat.. In oppressively sharp black-and-white shots, he follows the life of a creature whose body appears human, but who has the head of a rat. Picture after picture, we witness scenes that—deconstructed and wrested from everyday gestures—reveal the suppressed aspects of human existence. The catalogue presents the cycle of paintings as an impressive show that keeps the reader reflecting long after the last page.

I cannot remember when I put this rat and in abandoned buildings. Piece by piece I had mask on for the first time. Maybe I was born with it. I am not sure what is underneath. I never take it off: I sleep with it, bathe with it. I have heard people call me a rat and others a human with a mask. I am unsure whether I am a rat or human. Perhaps my mother was a rat and my father a human. I think I am a bit of each.

For some time, except for the rats, I had to live alone in my house. On my nighttime excursions I would often notice graffiti on many of the building of the city that I lived underneath. I was drawn to the strange faces and bodies that decorated the walls. One night I dreamed that the walls of my house were covered with rat faces all talking to me at the same time, asking my permission to be fixed to the wall. Upon waking I started drawing the faces I saw in my dreams. Most of my drawings had rat/human faces drawn with chalk that I begged from young children. I gave each one of these drawings a name, sometimes the same name as some rats that were living with me.

I am an outsider, live on the margin and have no place in human society. I am judged by humanity to be insane, to be feared and avoided at all costs. Normality must be preserved; it is sacrosanct no matter what the cost . . . Most hu- mans hate people such as me, as we challenge their illusion of a stability and purpose. As a rat, I symbolize chaos and disorder. There is little hope of a better world until humanity comes to terms with the unpleasant fact that repression and fear are ultimately the masters of their destiny.

About Roger Ballen

ROGER BALLEN (*1950, New York City) lives in Johannesburg. His artistic career is underpinned by studies in psychology, geology, and mineral economics. His “Ballenesque” photographs and films have not only been celebrated in numerous major museums, but have also been the subject of many book projects, most recently, The World According to Roger Ballen. [Official Website]

The Film: Roger the Rat, 2020

The Book: Roger the Rat; Under the sign of the rat

Roger Ballen
Roger the Rat

Ed. Nadine Barth, text(s) by Roger Ballen, graphic design by Anja Haering

2020. 128 pp., 61 ills.  |  Hardcover  | 22.00 x 22.00 cm

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