With South African history and the legacy of colonialism as a point of inspiration, William Kentridge creates animated films, drawings, and prints that offer a moral measure of our time and invite viewers to draw their own conclusions.
Kentridge will speak at the Detroit Institute of Arts
(DIA) on Tuesday, March 17 at 7 p.m. His work is currently featured in an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, curated by Mark Rosenthal, DIA adjunct curator of contemporary art. The lecture is free and open to the public.
In South Africa and throughout the United Kingdom, Kentridge is a noted playwright, actor and producer whose work focuses on human rights and African politics. Although he is considered among the most accomplished print makers in the world, it is his animated films that have won high critical acclaim.
Each animated film is made from a limited number of still drawings. Kentridge photographs a drawing, moves or alters it slightly, and re-photographs it. As he works, layers of charcoal build a rich ground for each subsequent drawing as the page becomes a palimpsest (a document that has been overwritten) that shadows the history of a particular image.
Born into a Jewish family with parents who were attorneys that defended victims of apartheid, Kentridge identifies himself as an outsider in South African culture who has trained his moral compass on the injustices of colonial power. His works convey his disapproval of the colonialist past, while also transmitting a sense of regret, indecision and loss. His work has broad appeal because he investigates convergent histories to rethink oppressive ambition and universal costs of repression. Acknowledging that his cultural background does not allow him to speak from the perspective of the disenfranchised, he has chosen to create art that offers poignant political commentary.
The DIA recently acquired the Kentridge work entitled What Will Come, which is based on the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1935. The Ethiopians put up a great resistance and held off the Fascist incursion until Emperor Haile Selassie conceded defeat after 16 months of battle. The animation is based on a series of images related to warfare, wildlife of Africa, the spoils of war and emmigration of refugees. The title is borrowed from a Ghanaian proverb: What will come, has already come, an adage that conveys that there is nothing new in the world, and that past lessons learned should inform present thoughts and future actions.