William Kentridge in his studio with the plaster versions of Cape Silver, 2019 (left) and Open, 2019 (centre). Photo: Stella Olivier

William Kentridge Stages First Sculpture Exhibition In South Africa

South Africa’s William Kentridge is well known for his overtures in theatre. However, his theatrical journey was not all about being on stage and crafting musicals and operas. It had a twist to it- it was a journey through the visual arts field encompassing painting, photography, short films and sculpture. Even though Kentridge has quite a number of sculptural works, he has never had a solo exhibition dedicated to sculpture. In this respect, Norval Foundation is hosting the artist for the first time at their establishment at Steenberg in Capetown.

Dubbed ‘Why Should I Hesitate? Sculpture’, the exhibition runs concurrently with ‘Why Should I Hesitate? Putting Drawings To Work‘ at Zeitz MOCAA. At Norval foundation, Kentridge presents an array of sculptural works that speak about his forays in theatre and interactions with the world. Made majorly from bronze, wood, found materials among other things, Kentridge’s expertise puts his incredible skill to work while addressing major issues around his society.

Photo courtesy of Norval Foundation

The sculptures on display, just like the multimedia display on showcase at Zeitz MOCCA speak a lot about the artist’s illustrious career and at the same time explore his flexibility in the field of creative arts. According to Norval Foundation, the exhibition is a testament to Kentridge’s ‘longstanding and spontaneous improvisation when handling three-dimensional form’ and triggers the memory of ‘the origins of the works in props from his operas and images from his animations stepping off the stage and out of the screen, confronting us directly at ground level.’ The exhibition is also inclusive of special works commissioned specifically for this show.

Photo by Dave Southwood; Norval Foundation

This show has been pitted by the organisers as the largest exhibition to be held on African soil in over a decade. The display is not just large in quantity but also in the number of issues it tackles. Since it spans 19 years, ‘Why Should I Hesitate? Sculpture’, speaks a lot about the biography of the artist for the past two decades. Born in South Africa in 1955, Kentridge is familiar with the history of the southernmost country which is also mirrored in his works. Furthermore, the show touches on his forays in and out of South Africa since the artist has travelled widely. 

Photo courtesy of Norval foundation

Finally, the works show Kentridge’s evolution as an artist. The artist’s practice is born out of a cross-fertilisation between mediums and genres, and responds to the legacies of colonialism and apartheid. The beauty of his works is drawn from the medium of history of the film- from stop-motion animation to early special effects, while his drawing, specifically the dynamism of an erased and redrawn mark, is an integral part of his expanded animation and filmmaking practice.  He indeed leaves a mark of his practice in the arts world in his collections.

William Kentridge started off his career in theatre before diversifying in drawing and sculpture. In theatre, Kentridge worked as an actor, theatrical director, set designer and playwright in 1970 and ’80s. To improve his theatre skills he studied mime and theatre in Paris in 1980. By 1992 he started a collaboration involving multimedia performances with Handspring Puppet Theatre which was founded in 1981 in Cape Town. From the theatre, Kentridge was ready to explore the visual arts world and his skills, which are on display, speak a lot about the creative voice as the title of the exhibition suggests.

Bird, Fill, & bronze sculptures by Kentridge Photo courtesy of Dave Southwood; Norval Foundation

The curators in this exhibition, Karel Nel, Owen Martin, Talia Naicker and Vicky Lekone seem interested in the exploration of art as a voice of the artists and why the artist should not hesitate in speaking out. While posing the question, “why should I hesitate?” the curators are prodding into the basic tenets on why art is created and how intrinsic the voice of the artist is in recording histories and at the same time questioning issues that may seem normal to the unsuspecting eye. Additionally, why should I hesitate?”  is a call to artists not to hesitate using various mediums and forms to express their ideas and form a commentary on the social, economic, and political life as we see it.

Kentridge’s work has been seen in museums and galleries around the world since the 1990s, including Documenta in Kassel, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Musée du Louvre in Paris, Whitechapel Gallery in London, Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen and the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid.

Besides exhibitions, Kentridge has had several Opera productions  which include Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Shostakovich’s The Nose, and Alban Berg’s Lulu, and have been seen at opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala in Milan, English National Opera in London, Opera de Lyon, Amsterdam opera, and others. The Summer of 2017 saw the premiere of Kentridge’s production of Berg’s Wozzeck for the Salzburg Festival. The Head & the Load, sometimes described as a processional opera (with original music by composers Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi), opened to critical acclaim in London and New York in 2018.

Procession by Kentridge Photo by Dave Southwood: Norval Foundation

Kentridge is the recipient of honorary doctorates from several universities including Yale and the University of London, and in 2012 he presented the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University. In 2010, he received the Kyoto Prize. In 2015 he was appointed an Honorary Academician of the Royal Academy in London. In 2017, he received the Princesa de Asturias Award for the arts, and in 2018, the Antonio Feltrinelli International Prize.

Dedicated to the research and exhibition of 20th and 21st century visual art from South Africa and beyond, the Norval Foundation is located in the Steenberg Area, overlooking the Table Mountain National park. Founded by the Norval Family-initial funders- the foundation boasts of housing the Gerard Sekoto Foundation, the Edoardo Villa Estate Collection and the Alexis Preller Archive. Equipped with the Sculpture Garden, outdoor amphitheatre, purpose-built exhibition spaces and research library, the foundation offers pristine conditions for thriving of the arts both to the artists and art enthusiasts including the general public. The foundation’s aim is to make art widely accessible to local and international visitors by creating a self-sustaining centre for art.

The exhibition; ‘Why Should I Hesitate? Sculpture” opened on 24th August 2019 and runs until 23rd March 2020.

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