William Kentridge was born in South Africa in 1955.
He therefore spent 40 years living under the notorious apartheid regime. He describes how at the time the only way of understanding society was to privately develop his sense of the absurd. William Kentridge is white. His father, Sydney, is known for being one of the leading anti-apartheid lawyers. The context in which he grew up cannot be separated from his current artistic creation.
A unique world
He’s established his own unique world – which is what distinguishes a great artist – in black and white, composed of films set within skilful installations, among other things, which tell stories that tend to eschew conventional narrative.
He’s the subject of a major exhibition in Basel until 13 October which brings together a range of his works dating back to the 1980s. William Kentridge produces storylines without beginning or end.
The partial history
A key text is reproduced in the exhibition catalogue where he explains that one of his big shocks was when he learned that history, only ever presents a partial view of reality.
Rome Renaissance and ghetto
He cites Rome as an example, a city he has cherished and which has captured his imagination since he was 6 years old. It took him a very long time to realize that in Rome the Renaissance existed in tandem with a rather less humanist reality: the ghetto, in which the Jews were confined and humiliated.
His own stories are therefore never linear, but instead are pieced together like collages.
The tools he uses are charcoal, shadow play and video, in conjunction with a multitude of old and often technical devices which lend his work a deliberately anachronistic quality. In terms of images, these are not tied to his protagonists’ speech but rather to music.
Kentridge describes himself as an heir to Méliès, the old magician who used cinema to achieve other tricks…
The culmination of his work on display in Basel, which has already been the subject of an exhibition at the most recent Kochi Biennale in India (see the report on the subject), is a video installation that combines drawings, shadow play and filmed sequences, which features a very long procession depicting life itself filing past, with its dead, its executioners, its sorrows and its joys.
Kentridge observes that there’s nothing more powerful than hearing the sound of a marching band resonating in his studio. And this is the music that continues to haunt us long after leaving the museum in Basel.
An insight into his mind
Watch William Kentridge’s filmed reaction to this series of eight words (Black&White, Mime, Nostalgia, Apartheid, Migration, Marching band, Silent film, Revolution, Your next dream).
An efficient and very articulate insight into the mind of this great artist.
Watch the video:
Until 13. 10. 2019. https://kunstmuseumbasel.ch
The Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam is also staging a William Kentridge exhibition.
In 2015 the artist donated 10 Drawings for Projection (1989-2011) to the film museum. The exhibition unfolds around these animation films,
Until 1 September. www.eyefilm.nl
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