I remember being in high school, in South Africa, at 17 years of age and we went on a field trip to the Pretoria Art Museum. As an art student we had been learning about William Kentridge. His work was proudly on display that hot summer day in Pretoria. I had very little knowledge and appreciation for the greatness of the artist at the time. And I never gave it another thought passed our final exams that year.
Last year my husband and I went to Rome for a second honeymoon. You know the kind, where you are finally done being pregnant and are finally out of the baby phase of life and you can now start to enjoy your spouse a little bit more with your children getting more and more independent…
Anyway, I digress, it was during this trip to Rome that I came across the great wall of ‘Triumphs and Laments’ – the brief history of Rome. It gave me a vague feeling of nostalgia, and a strange familiarity, yet I had never seen it before. It was later, during a BBC interview with Mr. Kentridge that I connected the dots and his story came alive for me.
This piece is a 550m long frieze (erased from the biological patina on the Tiber embankment walls of Rome’s urban waterfront). It consists of more than 80 figures, up to 10m high and represents a silhouetted procession of Rome’s greatest triumphs and tragedies. To celebrate its launch, he and his long-time collaborator, the South African composer Philip Miller, devised a series of performances featuring live shadow play and more than 40 musicians.
‘The hope is that, [as] people walk the extent of these 500 meters, they will see images of the history they find both familiar and transformed in some way. And this will reflect the complex way in which a city is represented… We are trying to find the triumph in the lament and the lament in the triumph, putting together a sense of history from fragments.’ – William Kentridge
William Kentridge was born in 1955 in Johannesburg, South Africa and still resides there today. Both his parents were attorneys during the apartheid era and they represented the oppressed and marginalised. This explains where he gets his political slant from. With a strong artistic voice he is able to communicate what we think and feel during turbulent times over tabu subjects. He makes you think, holds you accountable, and inspires you to do something – to make a change. He calls us out. Whether we are guilty or not.
Short film – Felix in Exile:
At first he wanted to be an actor, gave it a good try but when he realised he was failing, he went back to his first consistent love, drawing. Eventually, he became comfortable calling himself an artist and he has never looked back since. More than just art for arts sake (which there is nothing wrong with by the way) he genuinely has content that makes political leaders squirm in their seats. He took his charcoal drawings to another level and started to create short films – successive charcoal drawings, always on the same sheet of paper, contrary to the traditional animation technique in which each movement is drawn on a separate sheet. In this way, Kentridge’s videos and films came to keep the traces of the previous drawings. His animations deal with political and social themes from a personal and, at times, autobiographical point of view.
On the art market, Kentridge’s artworks are among the most sought-after and expensive works in South Africa: “a major charcoal drawing by world-renowned South African artist William Kentridge could set you back some £250 000”. Kentridge is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, however over the years he has also had work in all the major galleries around the world, including the Louve, Paris.
The above images were photographed from a Phaidon Publication.
Mr. Kentridge is a truly inspiring artist to follow and one I am deeply proud as a fellow South African.There is just so much more to him, than I have shared here, so I encourage you to look out for him in book stores and galleries near you. May be he will challenge how you see the world and history.