Few artists can effectively create a terrifying image, but Roger Ballen certainly can.

roger ballen

The current exhibition at the National Museum of African Art will focus on the past 40 years of Ballen's black-and-white, surreal visions. A shaky, childish drawing, a mangled wire hanger, or a battered stuffed animal become the stuff of nightmares before the South African artist's unflinching lens.

The artist explained the use of light and dark in an interview with Time Magazine:

"In American culture, or Western culture, dark means evil, scary or something you stay away from, something you don’t want to confront you. You want to live your life in a very light way. I think the pictures deal with an aspect of the so-called dark side."

Ballen's latest exhibition features 55 works and one video -- a chilling collaboration with controversial rappers Die Antwoord. The music video for "I Fink You Freaky" features many of Ballen's key motifs: scribbles, masks and ghostly graffiti set to the duo's rap-rave beat. Check it out below for a quick tutorial to Ballen's twisted visual language.


“Lines, Marks, and Drawings: Through the Lens of Roger Ballen” will show at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art until February 9, 2014. See a preview of the images below and be prepared to rethink black-and-white photography.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Injured From the Apparitions series 2007 Archival pigment print 60 x 60 cm (23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in.) Collection of the artist

  • Washing Line From the Boarding House series 2005 Silver gelatin print 40 x 40 cm (15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.) Collection of the artist

  • Banner From the Asylum series 2009 Archival pigment print 90 x 90 cm (35 3/8 x 35 3/8 in.) Collection of the artist

  • Boarding House From the Boarding House series 2008 Archival pigment print 90 x 90 cm (35 3/8 x 35 3/8 in.)

  • Jump From the Asylum series 2009 Archival pigment print 90 x 90 cm (35 3/8 x 35 3/8 in.) Collection of the artist

  • Alter Ego From the Asylum series 2010 Archival pigment print 60 x 60 cm (23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in.) Collection of the artist

  • Threat From the Asylum series 2011 Archival pigment print 90 x 90 cm (35 3/8 x 35 3/8 in.) Collection of the artist

  • Divided Self From the Apparitions series 2007 60 x 60 cm (23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in.) Archival pigment print Collection of the artist