To celebrate its 15th year, PULSE Art Fair welcomes vistors with a work of empowerment: "SPOEK 1," an 11-ton, 22-foot long casspir armored military vehicle covered in glass beads.
“Police would drive this thing straight through homes without stopping,” says artist Ralph Ziman of the 11-ton virtually indestructible Casspir I’m (quite comfortably) crouching beneath, mesmerized. How could one not be? Seventy million glass beads ranging the spectrum of colors and traditional Africanized patterns envelop every square inch of “SPOEK 1,” a reclaimed, refitted and reimagined Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. It’s horrifying to take in the reality: This was (and still is) a carrier of dark forces. Made for war, not art.
“You grow up in South Africa during the apartheid era and these things mess with you forever,” says Ziman, who has memories of fellow teenagers throwing rocks at it and getting shot back with live ammunition. Stripping Casspir of its power is his way of fighting back. “If you can touch it, you’re no longer scared of it is the African tradition.” And touch it you can come Dec. 5 to 8 when “SPOEK 1” will have its Miami Art Week debut at PULSE Art Fair.
“When I thought of our 15th anniversary, reflection was number one,” says Pulse Director Cristina Salmastrelli (hence why out of 65 galleries and 250 artists represented, “SPOEK 1” is the opening piece). “My favorite art is the kind that draws you in and you have to step closer to get intimate with, and when you do you discover an unsettling truth.”
Or, in this case, unsettling truths, namely that Casspirs were bought by the U.S. military during the second Gulf War, and that thanks to the Pentagon 1033 program, the federal government was giving them away to local police. “All of a sudden, they showed up in Ferguson Black Lives Matter protests, and it was like PTSD,” says Ziman. “Why does every bad idea keep going?” This is the conversation Ziman wants us to have on a global and cultural level—and that “SPOEK 1” undeniably sparks.
Ziman finishes by telling me that it took a village (about 100 artisans from South Africa) three years to complete the intricate beading of “SPOEK 1.” “In the end, it’s all about community,” he says.