Photo Credit: William Kentridge Studios

South African Artist William Kentridge Speaks To Zeitz Mocaa Curator Azu Nwagbogu On His Upcoming Exhibition Dubbed ‘Why Should I Hesitate: Putting Drawings To Work’

In just over two weeks, the largest single exhibition of William Kentridge’s work will open in Cape Town. Why Should I Hesitate? Putting Drawings To Work will be on view at Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA.) Recently, the artist took the time to respond to questions from Zeitz MOCAA Curator, Azu Nwagbogu. He expands on the inspiration for his works.

Azu Nwagbogu: Why is drawing still central to your practice as an artist and further to that, what role does new media play in your working practice as an artist? As a corollary, what does materiality mean to you as an artist and how is this represented in this exhibition?

William Kentridge: Drawing is the starting point for the project. It’s a way of thinking in the material. In my case, very often charcoal which has the flexibility of being erased as quickly and easily as you can change your mind and have a new thought. So it’s a way of thinking aloud. I rely on the process of drawing to generate thoughts which may end up as charcoal drawings or may end up as sculptures or tapestries or films or pieces of theatre.

It is always a question of finding a material in which to think. Whether it is an actor’s body, a gesture, torn paper or ink. There must be a connection between the particular qualities of the material and the thematics that are under investigation. 

Azu Nwagbogu: The thematics around your work are often around the ambiguity of power and its shifting structures; those who wield it which changes but always seem to remain the same. Do you think of your work as a collection of fables? I.e. moral stories? But fables are based on fiction whereas your work is rooted in history. How do fact and fiction interplay in your work?

William Kentridge: I hadn’t thought of my work as a collection of fables but I’m not unhappy to have that description. It’s a bit like Theodore Adorna’s Minima Moralia (little moral). So they’re moral fables except that I don’t know what the moral is of the stories that I tell. And the works are done to try to not only find out what the moral is, but what the question is behind the moral. The ambiguity of moral positions is very often what is revealed.

All things can come in to the studio which includes both the world of news reporting and fact in that sense, archival material, photographic records of events but also dreams, thoughts, novels, poems, and all have an equal status in the studio in terms of being raw material for a new drawing or film. Which has always an intermediate and indeterminate status of being between fact and fiction and has the facticity of the artwork?     

Azu Nwagbogu: Can you tell us about the importance of the Centre for the Less Good Idea and its role in your practice and this is represented in this major exhibition? 

William Kentridge: The Centre For The Less Good Idea is playing an important part in the cultural life of Johannesburg and is an alternative to the larger more established institutions that are there. But it is not part of the exhibition Why Should I hesitate. It would need a separate exhibition. It would need a space primarily of performance rather than of exhibition. So whereas there are public showings outside of the centre itself, of the work that it does, that’s a new project to undertake. 


A series of member events and public programmes will be held across both venues over the opening weekend, Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 August 2019.

Exhibition title:            Why Should I Hesitate: Putting Drawings To Work

Venue:                         Level 3 Galleries and throughout, Zeitz MOCAA; Silo District, V&A Waterfront

Run dates:                    25 August 2019 – 23 March 2020

Exhibition curators:     Azu Nwagbogu, assisted by Tammy Langtry

Interview by Zeitz MOCAA


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