"I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain ending - an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check, and nihilism at bay."

William Kentridge was born in 1955 in Johannesburg. Son of two anti-apartheid lawyers, he learned at an early age to question structural impositions. In 1976, he attained a degree in Politics and African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand after which he studied art at the Johannesburg Art Foundation until 1978. There, he met Dumile Feni and was greatly influenced by his drawings. He also worked as a set designer for film productions and taught design printing until he moved to Paris in 1981 to study drama at the Á‰cole Jacques LeCoq.

During the 80’s, Kentridge was art director for television series and feature films. He then began making hand-drawn animated films. Although not directly referring to the segregationist era, he acquired international recognition as a South African artist whose work tracks a personal route across the aftermath of Apartheid and Colonialism. His films are set in the over-exploited, scorched industrial and mining landscape around Johannesburg, which represent the legacy of a time of abuse and injustice.

In a talk with art critic Okwui Enzewor, Kentridge expressed, ‘Drawing is not unlike the structure and evolution of the South African landscape.’ Since 1989 he has made 9 films that accompany the end of the apartheid system, the first elections and the work of Truth and Reconciliation Commission in trying to show the complex tensions in a postcolonial memory. Amongst them are “Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris”, “Ubu tells the Truth”, and “Steroscope”.

In addition to film and drawing, an important part of his career has been devoted to theatre. From 1975-91 he was member of the Junction Avenue Theatre Company, in Johannesburg and Soweto. In 1992, he began collaborating, as set designer, actor, and director of the Handspring Puppet Company. The Company creates multi-media pieces using puppets, live actors and animation. It performs plays like Woyzeck, Faust and King Ubu to reflect on colonialism, and human struggle between the past, modernity and ethics.

Figure 1: Still from "Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris” (1989). Source: www.animafest.hr

Figure 2: Puppet Drawing (2000) Collage, construction paper, tape, chalk, pins on Atlas Page.Source: www.williamkentridge.net

Figure 3: Drawing for "Stereoscope"

References

Enwezor, Okwui in Truth and Responsibility. A Talk with William Kentridge, in Parquet 54, 1998/99.|William Kentridge [online] Available at: artcyclopedia.com [Accessed 15 April 2009]|William Kentridge [online] Available at: williamkentridge.net [Accessed 15 April 2009]|William Kentridge - Felix in Exile (1994) [online] Available at: youtube.com [Accessed 15 April 2009]

Further reading list

William Kentridge: love and propaganda on a trip through the stars
By Jonathan Jones 
The Guardian 
Sept 21 2016

William Kentridge: The Refusal of Time - interview
By Andrew Frost 
The Guardian 
Feb 21 2014

William Kentridge: The New Museum, New York, USA
By Jenni Sorkin 
Frieze Magazine 
Nov 11 2001

Swords Drawn: William Kentridge
By Okwui Enwezor 
Frieze Magazine 
March 3 1998

Frieze London Special: In conversation with William Kentridge
By Anna Wallace-Thompson 
Frieze Magazine

William Kentridge
By Rosetta Brooks 
Artforum Magazine 
April 1998

William Kentridge in Conversation
By Keli-Safia Maksud 
Ocula Magazine 
June 1 2018

William Kentridge - Instructions on making sense of the world 
By Kerri von Geusau 
TL Magazine 
Jan 19, 2019

William Kentridge: Drawing Has its Own Memory
By Kate McCrickard 
Art in Print Magazine 
Volume 6, Number 5

William Kentridge Tackles the History of Apartheid and Colonialism in His Latest Production
By Julie Belcove 
The Wall Street Journal 
Dec. 4, 2018

Opera and politics: William Kentridge and the art of allegory
By Michele Chan 
Art Radar Journal 
July 7 2015

William Kentridge: the barbarity of the 'Great War' told through an African lens
By Michael Godby 
The Conversation 
November 5, 2018

Lines of Resistance: William Kentridge's rough magic 
By Calvin Tomkins 
The New Yorker 
January 10, 2010

The Pages of a Mind: Interview with William Kentridge
By Brian Boucher 
Art in America Magazine 
Sep 17, 2013

Failing Better: William Kentridge's Drawing Lessons
By Harry Swartz-Turfle 
Hyperallergenic Magazine 
April 8, 2010

Nosing Around in Many, Many Forms
By Jori Finkel 
The New York Times 
March 10, 2009

Cinematic Drawing in a Digital Age
By Ed Krčma 
Tate Papers 
Autumn 2010

William Kentridge Interview: 'One needs sometimes to show the power of the irrational world as a demonstration of the limits of the rational world'
By Natasha Kurchanova 
Studio International Magazine 
December 11 2017

William Kentridge: Fortuna by Nell McClister
By Nell McClister 
Bomb Magazine 
Jan 1, 2014

William Kentridge's new exhibition is a powerful reflection on man and machine
By Sleek Team 
Sleek Magazine 
June 27 2018

The Head and the Load Is a Kaleidoscopic Tour of Africa's Colonial History
By Josephine Livingstone 
New Republic Magazine 
December 7, 2018


 

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