Spotlight Artist: Contemporary African Art: William Kentridge
William Kentridge, From 9 Drawings for Projection (1989-2003): History of the Main Complaint1996Production stillsdimensions variable
William Kentridge was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1955. He attended the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (1973–76), Johannesburg Art Foundation (1976–78), and studied mime and theater at L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, Paris (1981–82). Having witnessed first-hand one of the twentieth century’s most contentious struggles—the dissolution of apartheid—Kentridge brings the ambiguity and subtlety of personal experience to public subjects that are most often framed in narrowly defined terms.
Using film, drawing, sculpture, animation, and performance, he transmutes sobering political events into powerful poetic allegories. In a now-signature technique, Kentridge photographs his charcoal drawings and paper collages over time, recording scenes as they evolve. Working without a script or storyboard, he plots out each animated film, preserving every addition and erasure. Aware of myriad ways in which we construct the world by looking, Kentridge uses stereoscopic viewers and creates optical illusions with anamorphic projection, to extend his drawings-in-time into three dimensions. Kentridge has had major exhibitions at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2009); Philadelphia Museum of Art (2008); Moderna Museet, Stockholm, (2007); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2004); among others. He has also participated in Prospect.1 New Orleans (2008); the Sydney Biennale (1996, 2008); and Documenta (1997, 2002). His opera and theater works, often produced in collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company, have appeared at Brooklyn Academy of Music (2007); Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa (1992, 1996, 1998); and Festival d’Avignon, France (1995, 1996). His production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera, The Nose, premiered in 2010 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in conjunction with a retrospective organized by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. William Kentridge lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Links and Readings
Do artists have a social responsibility? To whom? To what?
Do art objects possess the power to convey empathy or compassion? Discuss why, or why not.
How does the artist work reflect or incorporate elements of compassion, empathy, and/or sympathy and to what effect?
How does the artist view their responsibilities in relation to the subjects they address in their work? How does a sense of social responsibility challenge or inspire the creative process?
Describe how the feeling of compassion might affect your experience of art. Discuss your response to particular works by this artists, to the artist himself, or towards the events and people to whom he refers.