at Zeitz MOCCA looks at history in the lens of the artist as well as the artist’s
long artistic career spanning four decades.
It is not easy to put almost half a century’s work of a prolific artist’s work into a single exhibition. However, this is exactly what Zeitz MOCCA has done in South Africa. On August 25, the Capetown based museum for contemporary African art opened its largest exhibition ever hosting renowned artist William Kentridge.
The exhibition, “Why should I Hesitate? Putting Drawings to work,” would see Kentridge’s 40-year career spanning charcoal drawings, woodcut prints, stop-frame animation, tapestries, installation and video come to life at Zeitz MOCCA. Given its length and breadth, the exhibition is more of an artistic biographical account of his exploits in theater and how he has been able to navigate through different forms of art.
“When conceptualising this exhibition, we wanted to do more
than simply attempt to condense many of Kentridge’s projects from his
illustrious career into one space. It was vital to unpack Kentridge and reveal
more of his processes and how two-dimensional forms assume life. We also wanted
to offer a sort of ‘backstage’ view of the artist on his journeys and his experimentations,
and sometimes at his most uncertain and vulnerable,” explains Azu Nwagbogu,
curator of the exhibition.
The exhibition’s title, Why Should I Hesitate, is taken from the artist’s recent opera, The Head and the Load (2018), which explores some of the paradoxes of Africa’s involvement in the First World War. This question was first posed by an African soldier who had a difficult choice: accept conscription – leaving behind the security of his home, to risk his life in a war of which he had little knowledge – or reject conscription and face certain persecution. Read in the context of Kentridge’s studio practice, Why Should I Hesitate is, therefore, a question that stresses the importance of process over procedure or product. It is an attempt to draw out the artist’s work from the uncertainties of legend, so it can be understood within the context of our ever-changing cultural climate: an exercise that resists inertia but is necessarily framed by doubt.
“While Kentridge remains dedicated to a South African narrative,
his projects pose humanist questions of other such similar historical failures
and other utopic possibilities for success. In this way, the exhibition may be
viewed as a historiographic reading of the world over the last century,”
observes Tammy Langtry, curator of the exhibition.
Thanks to Zeitz MOCCA’s expansive exhibition spaces, this humongous showcase has taken up five independent spaces throughout the former grain silos. Besides the exhibition, there will be a number of public programs and events, including a symposium on October 27 that will bring together leading figures in the art world to extend the important dialogue and thematic concerns emanating from Kentridge’s work. Also, the exhibition catalog, “Why Should I Hesitate: Putting Drawings to Work,” is on sale at the shop.
The spaces which take up Kentridge’s work at MOCCA are Level 3, Level 1, Centre for the Moving Image, BMW Atrium, and a nighttime projection in the Track Shed. Each space offers insights into the artist’s creative process.
The journey into this immersive process begins at Level 3. Dubbed ‘The Biography,’ it begins the journey from the earliest works of drawings and print (1976-2019) and blossoms into larger theatrical works. Through the work, you will travel across continents, bridge social, economic and political systems and finally explore the personal barriers that inhibit change.
Using different techniques like drawing, printmaking and animation, the artist has documented visual history. The art is very intense opening questions on the creative process and how the studio comes in as an artist’s hallowed ground.
It is within the Studio that the artist’s imagination runs through the world like a global theatre and picks out events which are later manifested on the canvas. From the First World War, the cultural revolution of China to Soviet Russia, the bigger world and major events are explored by an artist in one corner of the world. Working with composers Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi, and choreographer and dancer Gregory Maqoma in KABOOM, Kentridge undertakes a forensic examination of the weighty themes of justice, truth, and beauty in relation to Africa’s involvement in the First World War. The 2015 ‘O Sentimental Machine’ originally commissioned by SALTWATER, 14th Istanbul Biennale breathes life into Trotsky’s belief that “we are all sentimental but programmable machines.”
As we move through Level one, we are ushered into ‘The processional and Process making’ a 2016 project titled Triumphs and Laments created in Rome, Italy. Using diverse mediums, this 500-metre temporary frieze chronicles the triumphs and lamentations of the Roman Empire.
Getting into the Centre of the Moving Image, we get out of
the canvas to immerse ourselves in the power of the animated film series ‘Drawings
for Projection.’ This series was developed to explore drawings, as Kentridge
says, “not as a finished, finite fact, but as something that is provisional.” Created
between 1989 and 2011, the series captures the last memories of the apartheid
regime and events in the new South Africa as experienced by the creator.
Now that the eyes have had their feel, it is for the ears to be entertained in the BMW Atrium. Under the title; “Almost Don’t Tremble’ Kentridges recognizable megaphones surround the atrium within which musical echo currents found within previous musical collaborations fill the capacious space. As a tool of political propaganda, the megaphone is both symbolic in nature and the functional as the audience is entertained while making their way throughout the arena. The Music for Almost Don’t Tremble was composed by Philip Miller, Neo Muyanga, Kyle Shepherd, Waldo Alexander and Nhlanhla Mhlangu.
And finally, in the Trak Shed, ‘Shadow procession comes to life. The Track Shed is located at the entrance of the museum where historically, the grain silo would receive and send out its stores of grain. “Shadow Procession (1999) is projected amongst the original grain silo machinery. The work, an ode to the allegory of Plato’s Cave, speaks to the enslavement of people through the enslavement of knowledge.
Using simple means to animate the figures and objects, Kentridge provides a glimpse into the mechanics of their making. The outline of a woman appears like a pot, secateurs move like a crab across the screen, a vintage stationery punch is ridden like a horse. Here we see Alfred Jarry’s character Ubu, who first appeared in Kentridge’s Ubu projects (1996-7), leading a line of figures across the concrete silo wall. The soundtrack is sung by Alfred Makgalemele.”
This exhibition runs through to March 23rd 2020. It is a worthy exploration into the inner sanctum of history while at the same time forming new ideas of the world in which we live. Kentridge’s work as displayed is not only exploratory but psychologically mind-boggling. It is posing the question, after this history, what next? History is the past, the past that has forever besieged Africa, but how can we move away from the past and at the same time formulate new histories?