Venice artist Ralph Ziman uses bright colors to highlight the dark cloud of violence hanging over his native South Africa

By Michael Aushenker

Ralph Ziman’s images in “Ghosts” use bright colors to make a point about dark truths

Ralph Ziman’s images in “Ghosts” use bright colors to make a point about dark truths

Ralph Ziman may be adding festive, luminous colors to images of assault rifles carried by masked thugs, but don’t accuse the Venice artist of candy-coating the violence in his South African homeland.

The 60 photos of AK47s adorned with red, blue, green and yellow Shona beads that make up Ziman’s first American exhibit — “Ghosts,” which opens Saturday at  C.A.V.E. Gallery on Abbot Kinney Boulevard  — are a cry for attention.

“The whole continent is awash in weapons,” said Ziman, a Johannesburg transplant.

Even outside of the poverty, warfare, child soldiers and religious extremism of neighboring African countries, “things are not great [in South Africa]. The government is incredibly corrupt,” Ziman said, alluding to embattled South African President Jacob Zuma, who has been accused of fraud, racketeering, polygamy and, most recently, using tax dollars to renovate his home.

“Any direction from Apartheid is a good direction … [but] at the moment, poor people are poorer than they’ve ever been” — a situation too often exploited by gun-toting criminals who perpetrate kidnappings and carjackings with near impunity, he said.

Last year’s national crime statistics for South Africa, a country already plagued by extraordinarily high crime rates, showed increased in violent robberies, hijackings and attempted murders, according to news reports.

Ziman has previously used images of assault rifles in street art throughout Venice, including spray-painted murals on Abbot Kinney and near the corner of Brooks and Pacific avenues.

For “Ghosts,” a multimedia exhibit eight months in the making, Ziman photographed costumed street vendors in Zimbabwe as they held the colorfully adorned replica assault rifles. The artist printed the images onto copy paper and hand-painted them. The works are displayed among 200 replica weapons that he packed onto crates and shipped back from Africa — no easy text, he said.

“When I saw his photographs of these men with AK-47s situated in stark empty rooms — their bright colors juxtaposed against the cold grey concrete — it was electrifying, but alarming at the same time,” said Patrick Iaconis, co-owner of C.A.V.E Gallery with Tanya Patsaourus.

Also a filmmaker, Ziman recently directed “Kite,” an independent film Starring Samuel L. Jackson that’s slated for fall release, and next hopes to shoot a documentary on political unrest in the Congo.

But, for Ziman, nothing beats the immediacy of self-expression that comes with city and gallery walls, he said.

“This is very liberating,” he said. “You can do it cheaply, expediently. You don’t have to deal with politics and financing. To get [movies] financed, there’s a lot of things that play into it. This is much freer.”

“Ghosts” debuts with an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at C.A.V.E. Gallery, 1108 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. The event includes music by DJ Bu$RID3R. Call (310) 450-6960 or visit