Circles and cycles of Dirk Chalmers: A tribute



BELOVED maverick: Dirk Chalmers. Photograph courtesy

AN INDIVIDUAL WITH a gentle spirit, a zest for life and a lasting impact, Johannesburg-based photographer, videographer and director, Dirk Chalmers was killed on 6 June 2019 in a paragliding accident, after jumping off the Mahaqa mountains, in Bulwer, a small town in KwaZulu-Natal.  He was 32.

Chalmers took on the art industry with a passion that didn’t always see him toeing the lines of protocol. Born on 9 January 1988, in Johannesburg, he was schooled at Rand Park High School and enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand and AFDA, but did not complete degrees at either of these institutions. A self-starter from day one, Chalmers built a career for himself and self-funded every piece of equipment he owned, with money that he earned.

A hard worker, who knew what he wanted and pursued it, Chalmers started his own business, Squire, in April 2018, where he and his team created commercials and other content. Chalmers was included as one of the directors for the award-winning advertising company Picture Tree, in November 2018. The idea of including ethical and social components in his work, moved Chalmers immensely. With his holistic approach, he truly made the viewer engage and converse with his work. Chalmers believed that “new media is about creating communities and conversation, within a circle, as opposed to creating a circus for the masses”.

A pivotal moment in Chalmers’s career was his contribution to The ‘Dark’ City Project. Based in downtown Johannesburg, as a research project on the phenomenon of ‘hijacked’ buildings in the contemporary central business district of the city, The ‘Dark’ City was the brainchild of Hariwe (Hari I’Ons), which over three years, grew from a seed for a masters degree into a book and a major exhibition at Circa Gallery in November 2016. Chalmers was invited to take part in this project alongside several other hand-picked creative practitioners, in his capacity as a videographer.

A year later Chalmers was blessed with the opportunity to participate in another immensely important project for him. Royal Block (2017), was a community-based art project, that took place in uMasizkhe township, in the Karoo village of Graaff-Reinet, it was a collaboration with the artist Kim Lieberman. Chalmers filmed a documentary of this heart-warming outreach’s process. The art project consisted of silhouettes of the township residents and project participants painted on the walls of the buildings on Queen Street in uMasizkhe. Royal Block was completed over a period of 12 months and spread across 1000 square meters. It underwent different phases: the participants plastered the walls, painted the walls in different colours and then placed close to one hundred silhouettes on the walls. Not only was this project designed to bring joy to the residents in this area, it was also about teaching them new skills such as how to mix colours and how to hold a brush correctly. In the video one of the residents stated that the project was “actually the biggest gift” that the members of the community have ever received. Chalmers had met Lieberman at AfricaBurn in 2017; one week later, with in Lieberman’s words, “streamlined force”, he produced this masterpiece.

 “Life at the Pace of 4G” for MTC Namibia, in 2018, was another defining project in Chalmers’ career because it was the first commercial his company, Squire, produced since being registered. In all of Chalmers’ projects it is evident that he put the same kind of creative energy into the work, whether it was a collaborative piece, a commission, or his own work.

Chalmers leaves his Johannesburg-resident mother, Liesl Pashianti, his father, Swami Advait Rahasaya who lives on a farm in the Western Cape, his sister, Alia Chalmers, his girlfriend, Courtenay Claire Payne and many friends. By all accounts, he was a loyal friend and an amazing mentor. An inspiration as an artist and a person. His memory will live on and the impressions he made on those around him will always stay.

  • Kayla Muller is a first year Fine Arts student at the University of Pretoria. She is part of the VIT 101 class, being taught the rudiments of arts writing by Robyn Sassen during 2020.


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