The world has become an alarmingly overwhelming place to live in over the course of the last few years. The human species seems to be under a new threat every day: from the climate crisis to the global pandemic to political divisiveness, it's never-ending. Which raises the question: are we doing enough to save ourselves from our inevitable extinction? Who is going to save us? One of the key leading voices for the Gen Z in South Africa is 3D artist Scum Boy, who is also the subject of a new short film, titled Scum Boy, directed by Allison Swank, is here to help us navigate through all of the mess.
As millennial voices grow older and more tired, the answer to who's going to save us becomes clearer. A new generation of voices has come of age and risen from the sea of social media apps to save the day. With an unparalleled sense of self-awareness, acceptance, and a remarkable understanding of the world around them, here come the Gen Z. And through him and his views, we get a deeper understanding of the Gen Z psyche. What drives them, scares them and why we should be listening to this generation who are desperately fighting for a better future for all of us on planet Earth.
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Where did the name Scum Boy come from?
When I was a teenager I used to hang out at this bar in Johannesburg every week. I would pack a bag, tell my mom I’d be back in a few days and go there to sleep on the couch. Eventually, I became a regular and started hanging out with all these people that I never would've met in the small town I'm from.
In time, they started calling me their 'little scumbag.' And, usually, the term 'scum' would be kind of offensive but I created a family there that looked after me and made sure I was okay, so I was their 'little scumbag' that they kind of adopted. The 'boy' was added later when I was busy figuring out my identity.
Seeing as you identify as Jewish trans man, what was it like growing up?
Growing up in a small religious town affected me negatively throughout my whole childhood and teenage years but recently, I’ve been trying to get back to the core of it and kind of make it for me. I think religion as a whole is a shit show. I used to despise it and thought it was dumb as fuck, it took me some time to realise that people need that shit to deal with everything.
Like, at the end of the day, as long as it’s not fucking with other people, I say do whatever you want to. I had to research a lot of my Jewish past and my ancestry to actually respect it. Eventually, I realised that all my family that had to go through Europe whilst fleeing would think that I’m such a douchebag for hating the thing that they survived, you know?
What was it about 3D art that you were drawn to?
The whole thing about 3D art is that you can make whatever the fuck you want and there aren't really any limits to what’s doable. I think I struggled with traditional art forms cause there are always limits to what you can actually do.
From the start, I wanted to just be able to escape into a space where I could fully immerse myself into the worlds that I watched on TV and cartoons. I usually gravitated towards those cartoons where dumb shit happens and you’re like, that can’t happen in real life! How unrealistic! That’s the kind of shit I wanted to make and 3D was honestly the only way I could see myself going balls deep into that world without restrictions.
“When I make things in 3D, I bring something that’s unattainable in real life and then have full control over it in my own world and in my own way.”
What are some other artists that inspire you?
A lot of different types of artists inspire me and also a lot of people that are doing cool shit. So, not necessarily artists of the same medium. So many different things inspire me: from Johannesburg there’s a band called The cum in your faces and an illustrator called Wacom Boy, a collective in Cape Town called The Broke Boys, a tattoo artist called Nicholas Mudskipper, and then, of course, filmmaker Allison Swank and every episode of The Simpsons. So, honestly, I’m just trying to surround myself with good vibes.
Your work often features well-known fashion brands' clothing, what's your relationship like with fashion?
I love fashion and all those fancy brands and shit but I also can’t afford any of them. So, in my head, the only way I can actually have it is by using it in my art. When I make things in 3D, I bring something that’s unattainable in real life and then have full control over it in my own world and in my own way.
A lot of fashion brands have turned to 3D animation lately to present their products. What's your take on this growing trend and is this something you would be interested in doing?
I think it’s cool. Brands will always hop on the latest shit and try to profit off of whatever young people think is cool and luckily for us, 3D artists, we get to have our moment. Brands also realise that it’s so expensive to do the whole studio thing and hire like fifty people to do a campaign when you can just hire one person to make everything with more creative freedom.
Honestly, I’m a little slut for any streetwear brand. I’ve always wanted to design a sneaker for Adidas or create a campaign for Nike. That would be at the top of my list.
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Are there other fields within art that you’d like to explore?
I’ve been thinking of getting into street art and mural work. It would be cool to paste some shit all over the city. But I think it’s hard to translate what I know as a 3D artist into different mediums, they’re completely different. I think the closest medium to what I do would be photography or film but they're both boring as fuck for me. Art direction would be cool.
You're the subject of a new intimate documentary directed by Allison Swank. How was it opening up to cameras in that way?
I think if it was anyone else other than Allison Swank, I wouldn’t have been able to talk about as much as I did on camera. I think the fact that I have a friendship with Allison made it so relaxed and easy, it was basically like just talking to a friend, so in my head I wasn’t like, fuck this is a whole thing! It was more like my friends coming over and we’re just gonna hang and talk shit and it’ll be chilled, and that’s literally what happened.
The trailer for the documentary is pretty striking. You mention you’ve been close to dying a few times. Could you share one those near-death experiences with us? Also, why shouldn't we be afraid of death?
The majority of those near-death moments involved some sort of drug situation where I took things a little bit too far and had to be pulled back. But I was young and a dumbass and now I can happily say that I’ve been clean for 2 years. Looking back on all the shit I used to do, I don’t know how I managed to get out of it but I’m in a healthier space now.
I don’t know, I think dying is not the worst thing that could happen to someone, a lot of things can happen throughout our lives that result in years of trauma and I feel like that shit is so much harder to deal with. Also, death is such a real thing in the human condition. At some point, you’ve got to just accept it and not let it fuck with you.
“Death is such a real thing in the human condition. At some point, you’ve got to just accept it and not let it fuck with you.”
What are some of the biggest issues the human species are facing at the moment that we’re not doing enough to fix?
I think at the root of basically every problem there’s one common denominator and that’s white privilege, white supremacy and racism. You can’t really sort any other problem out without getting to the root of it, which is almost always based in white supremacy. The climate crisis isn’t something that’s only been around for a few decades, it was birthed out of colonisation and it is rooted in racism, directly linked to the climate crises is capitalism, which was birthed out of slavery and racism.
You could pick any major issue that we as the human species are struggling with and it will always be a result of us white people fucking everything up. You can’t fix the Earth without fixing the problem that caused all this shit, which is racism and honestly the people that get affected by climate change more than anyone else are Black people.
At the end of the day, racism is so systematically ingrained into everyday life, that the only way to actually solve all of Earth's massive problems is to uproot everything and give it all back to Black people, starting with all the land that we’ve stolen.
What would you say are the most defining characteristics of Gen Z?
I think Gen Z is made up of a whole assortment of different groups of people but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to vibe and survive. I think there’s a lot of shit that we’re trying to fix and we’re trying to navigate our way out of this trap of mental illness, while also trying to figure out where we fit into everything if that makes sense.
What advice would you give to older generations regarding our future on planet Earth?
If you care about planet Earth, you’ve got to also care about the people that live in it. Like I said before, start by giving back all the land we’ve stolen in South Africa. Older white generations are the majority that can actually make an impact and give back what they’ve taken. The first step to fixing planet Earth is to acknowledge what caused the problems in the first place.
I think there’s an inability to do factual research in older white generational people, there’s a thick layer of complacency and no need to change. Which is insane because in a country like South Africa, there is a huge wealth gap between Black and white families, and it’s very prevalent and clear. I don’t understand how older white people can see this and not take a moment to acknowledge that we white people are the cause and that we have hundreds of years of blood on our hands and have caused all of these problems.
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