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William Kentridge

(b. 1955)

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(1955– )

South African draughtsman, animator, and theatre director, born in Johannesburg. He came from a Jewish family of political activists opposed to the apartheid system. He studied politics but while a student developed a passion for art and theatre. The drawings and prints made in the 1980s reflected his response to the political system but through inference rather than direct statement. State of Grace, State of Hope, and State of Siege (1988, South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Johannesburg Art Gallery) are three massive screenprints which depict different responses to the situation. A woman with a fish on her head represents naive denial. Another figure with a fan for a head refers back to the revolutionary aspirations of early 20th-century art (Tatlin, Boccioni). The final image in the series is a corrupt business man. Kentridge acknowledges the influence of political artists such as Grosz in the construction of such images. It was only after the end of apartheid that he began to be noticed on the international scene, with his appearance at documenta X in 1997 being especially significant. He has been acclaimed for a series of six animated films based around the same characters. Soho Eckstein is a business man who has profited enormously from the system. Felix Teitelbaum is a poet who is also having an affair with Soho's wife. Kentridge has stated that over the course of making the films he has grown to see them as two sides of the same character. As well as its specific relationship to the South African situation, the artist has stated that the work can also be read ‘as about space between the political world and the personal, and the extent to which politics does or does not find its way into the private realm’. The internal conflicts of the characters are as significant as the external struggle. The films are remarkable technically as well as politically. Kentridge works from charcoal drawings which are constantly rubbed and redrawn so that when animated they evolve before the eyes of the viewer. His work in the theatre includes a production of The Magic Flute in 2007 that dramatized the hopes of the Enlightenment but also the dark side which led to colonial exploitation.

Further Reading

C. Alemani, William Kentridge (2006)M. Stevens, ‘Moral Majority’, New York Magazine (12 February 2006)

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