Archive for April, 2013

William Kentridge

Biography

I was six years old and my father was one of the lawyers for the families who had been killed (in the Sharpeville massacre). I remember once coming into his study and seeing on his desk a large flat, yellow Kodak box, and lifting the lid of it – it looked like a  chocolate box. Inside were images of a woman with back blown off, someone with only half her head visible. – Kentridge

To William Kentridge the box became a perfect metaphor for South Africa’s recent history. As an artist and film-maker, his life and career have been spent constantly contemplating and re-examinig South Africa’s recent history; the light and darkness that are both outside and within it and the essential incompleteness of its victims and those who observe or engage in this victimization.

Tide Table, 2003/04

Kentridge was born in 1955 into a wealthy Johannesburg family, descendants of Jewish refugees from the purges and pogroms of Russia and Europe.  (The term “pogrom” became commonly used in English after a large-scale wave of anti-Jewish riots swept through south-western Imperial Russia, present-day Ukraine and Poland, from 1881 to 1884.)  For generations the family had been deeply involved in politics and human rights issues in South Africa. Both his parents were lawyers, famous for their defense of victims of the apartheid.

From Felix in Exile, 1994

“My grandfather was a member of Parliament for 40 years. Obviously we’re talking here South Africa, a whites only parliament. I grew up in a family that was very involved with the legal battles against apartheid—the great treason trials in the 1950s and early ’60s, and later with the legal resources center that my mother founded. My father was involved with a number of very prominent cases that had political aspects to them, whether it was the inquest into the Sharpeville Massacre, the death of Steve Biko, or one of the trials of Nelson Mandela.” —William Kentridge

In 1976, he attained a degree in Politics and African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand after which he studied art at the Johannesburg Art Foundation until 1978. There, he met Dumile Feni whose drawings had a major impact on Kentridge’s work.

By the mid-1970s Kentridge was making prints and drawings. In 1979, he created 20 to 30 monotypes, which became known as the “Pit” series. In 1980, he executed about 50 small-format etchings which he called the “Domestic Scenes”. These two groups of prints served to establish Kentridge’s artistic identity, an identity he has continued to develop in various media. Despite his ongoing exploration of non-traditional media, the foundation of his art has always been drawing and printmaking. (Ref)

Domestic Scenes, individual print of plate 3, the self-portrait of the artist on the sofa (1980). Mixed-method etching

Kentridge became involved in theatre by collaborating with the Junction Avenue Theatre Company and in 1979 he directed his first comedy entitled Will of Rebel based on the life of South African writer Breyten Breytenbach. He also worked as a set designer for film productions and taught design printing until he moved to Paris in 1981.

For three years Kentridge abandoned drawing to study mime and acting at the École Jacques Lecoq in Paris. In 1984 he went back to drawing and produced a series of large works on paper that showed the influence of his experience as an experimental filmmaker.

Kentridge Art in2

Art in a State of Grace, Art in a State of Siege, Art in a State of Hope, 1988, Silkscreen

 Between 1989 and 2003 Kentridge made a series of nine short films that allegorize South Africa’s political upheavals, gathered under the title Drawings for Projection.

 In 1992, he also began collaborating, as set designer, actor, and director of the Handspring Puppet Company. The Company created multi-media pieces using puppets, live actors and animation. It performed plays like Woyzeck, Faust and King Ubu that reflect on colonialism, and human struggle between the past, modernity and ethics.

 Throughout his career, William Kentridge has been involved in politics, fine art, theater, film, and television—moving beyond the specific political issues of  South Africa to address the human condition, exposing the nature of memory, emotion, and social conflict. (Ref)

Here’s a short documentary on Kentridge; influences, themes, symbolism, metaphors and techniques of his work. 

Part 1

Part 2

William Hogarth, Time smoking a picture, 1797

 Influences

Throughout his work one can identify a variety of artistic influences, both from South African as well as from the European continent. Kentridge has always had an ambivalent relationship to the influence of European art and culture, focused by his own German, Jewish and Lithuanian roots. The influence of satirists,  who provided critical commentary on their times and its social issues, such as Honoré Daumier, Francisco Goya and William Hogarth is clear. He also often used European classical themes as frameworks for contemporary South African subjects. Kentridge’s fusion of Expressionism, art and theatre finds its context in the interests of South Africa’s Resistance Art movement of the 1980s. (Ref)

Honoré Daumier, NADAR elevating Photography to Art, 1862

Kentridge’s obsession with drawing began when he met Dumile Feni.

Dumile Feni, The stricken household 1965

Dumile made remarkably strong demonic drawings, either in ballpoint pen on a smaller scale, or in charcoal on a large scale. That was the first time that I understood the power of figurative, large scle drawings – that they could be so striking … He had the capacity to express things on a scale that I thought drawings could not achieve. He is the key local artist that influenced me. – Kentridge

Dumile Feni, Horses, 1967

Dumile’s pivotal impact on Kentridge contrasts strongly with his youthful disinterest with the conceptual and minimal European and American art of the 1960s and 1970s, and specially the paintings of the New York School with which Kentridge was familiar with. To Kentridge the abstract expressionism of that era appeared to be stuck in abstractionist silence, apolitical and self-indulgent.

Non-figurative work look so apolitical to me, that painting seemed an impossible – Kentridge

South African General [ca. 1991], large drypoint print.

Geaorg Grosz

Kentridge thus went back into art history and found inspiration in the early 20th century German expressionist work of Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Georg Grosz, the early 20th century French art and the Soviet filmmakers and designers of propaganda posters.

No escape from the people’s revenge! – 1941

Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and Käthe Kollwitz also used charcoal as a medium for social comment. According to Kentridge, for example,  his character Soho has its origins in the images of industrialists from Russian and the early Futurist propaganda drawings, of George Grosz and German Expressionism.

You behave!

Francisco de Goya , The sleep of reason produces monsters, 1799

Kentridge’s 1979 series of monoprints entitled the ‘Pit’ shows the earliest references to Goya both in the intentional awkward poses that the actors assume, and in the shadowy observers.

Max Beckman, Departures, Triptych,c.1944

His interest in the triptych format was inspired by Max Beckman and Francis Bacon. Beckmann, whose work express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the Twentieth Century reinvented the triptych and expanded this archetype of medieval painting into a looking glass of contemporary humanity.

Francis Bacon, Triptych 1973

In the triptych Kentridge recognized the possibilities to express his interest in the concepts of time, space, memory and change.

Firstly you have a series of images of the same place, but each is different because that space is occupied by a different center piece each time. Time has passed between each image, objects have been rearranged and even the viewpoint has changed slightly. Secondly, and far more importantly, is the dislocation of space … You set up the continuity between images and then refuse to let it happen. Working with drawings also has to do with story telling … There is no necessary continuity between the images. – Kentridge

Through the work he did as an art director on other people’s movies he realised that he could construct a drawing on the same principles that you would to  design a film; not be constrained by the normal demands of naturalistic perspective, space or lighting.

Kentridge’s films evoke the late silent cinema of Russian and German Expressionism, most directly in the predominance of black and white, the absence of dialogue, and the use of intertitles.

From Other Faces, 2011

Characteristics of his Work

Kentridge shows a distinctive vision of the complex history of South Africa, the legacy of apartheid and more broadly, the nature of human emotions and memory. Through his drawings, films, installations and sculpture, he reflects on the psychological landscape of South Africa which has experienced great upheaval, violence, racial and social injustice, the effects of colonialism and the politics of apartheid, and confronting acceptance of responsibility and the telling of truth.

Although Kentridge has created some works that directly refer to the political situation of South Africa during the late- and post apartheid era, the core of his artwork features a more complex framework for human thought and behaviors on an intimate level, filtred through his experience of Apartheid, the transitional period, and Post Apartheid.

‘I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings are certainly spawned by and feed off the brutalized society left in its wake. I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain things. An art (and a politics) in which my optimism is kept in check and my nihilism at bay.’ – William Kentridge

Though grounded in South Africa, his work resonates in more universal ways, exploring the relationship between desire, ethics, and responsibility, our changing notion of history and place, and how we construct and interpret these histories.

His interest in theatre continued throughout his career and clearly informs the dramatic and narrative character of his art as well as his interests in linking drawing and film. His work as a draughtsman has been expressionistic and dominated by pastel and charcoal, and generally the drawings are conceived as the basis of animated films.(Ref)

Exhibition curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, described Kentridge’s work as ‘an elegiac art that explores the possibilities of poetry in contemporary society, and provides a powerful satirical commentary on that society, while proposing a way of seeing life as a continuous process of change rather than as a controlled world of facts’. Suzanne Blier calls his work poetic grenades.

Although he derives many images and forms from well known masterpieces of Western Art, Kentridge also uses found images from press photographs, advertisements or books.

Arc/Procession: Develop, Catch Up, Even Surpass 1990

Themes

The overall theme of Kentridge’s works could be summarised as: how political realities impact on individual lives, or the extent to which politics does or does not find its way into the private realm. According to Kentridge his work is “a portrait of Johannesburg,” filtered through the internal conflict of an individual. His work explores colonial oppression and social conflict, loss and reconciliation, and the ephemeral nature of both personal and cultural memory.

“Forgetting is natural, remembering is the effort one makes.” William Kentridge

Memory and erasure / remembering and forgetting

Kentridge’s work focuses on the way forgetting and remembering are closely intertwined. He believes that past events fade into the distant background of our minds, yet our identity is shaped by this forgetting.

Kentridge’s technique of rubbing out parts of one drawing and making the next drawing over the top is a metaphor for this process of ‘disremembering’. This process has been coined by art critics as ‘partial erasure‘ because not everything in the drawing is erased. The resulting layers of partially erased marks could be interpreted as layers of memory as well as the traces of the past in the form of abandoned mining and civil engineering structures around Johannesburg.

Kentridge’s theme of remembering and forgetting is closely tied to events in South Africa, in particular the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This tribunal was set up in 1996 to investigate the crimes committed under Apartheid. It had the duel role of ensuring that past injustices are not forgotten and to enable the South African people to move on. While the themes of remembering and forgetting are played out through individual characters in his films Kentridge presents this as universal condition.

Images from Zeno Writing, 2002

Images from Zeno Writing, 2002

Relationship between personal and public; Kentridge’s art explores the way personal issues mix with broader social and political questions. For example, Zeno Writing (2002) brings together drawings, documentary footage from World War I, and filmed cigarette smoke to ask two questions: How does one bring this external world into everyday life? And: How do the larger questions of the world become part of one’s psyche?

Shadows; Shadows began in William Kentridge’s practice as shapes cast by animated figures in his films. Later shadows become a subject matter in themselves.

Still from Journey to the Moon, 2003

Shadows are created using devices such as torn pieces of paper and everyday objects like a coffee pot or scissors which feature in his films and drawings. In Journey to the Moon (2003) for example, the shadow of a coffee pot becomes a space ship. The sculptural work Procession(2000) features 26 figures cast in bronze modelled on the shapes formed by shadows.

Shadow functions as an indirect or oblique view of something. It is used as a metaphor in Kentridge’s practice for the relationship between the past and the present, the often confusing space between what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and the fact that we all carry the potential seed of our own demise.

The Battle Between Yes and No, 1989, Screen print

Kentridge’s use of Comedy and Satire; In Kentridge’s film some of his imaginative graphic transformations are comic or tragi-comic. In Sobriety, Obesity and Growing Old (1991) Soho Eckstein, the archetypal businessman, is lying in bed with his cat. The cat suddenly jumps on his face and becomes a gas mask.

His comedy plays on the contrast between rational outcomes and illogical expectations, or the reverse, confounding our expectations. What happens is unexpected or what is expected never happens.

Range of media in Kentridge’s art practice

While drawing is at the heart of his practice he works across a range of media and disciplines including writing, poetry, directing, opera, engraving, painting, printmaking, theatre design and acting.

His technique is linked to his thinking about politics and his worldview; “The thing with charcoal is you can find the form; you keep adjusting it, you rub it out, you redraw it”. This thinking and rethinking, drawing and redrawing, in the process of embodying a complex idea, is the foundation of Kentridge’s craft. For Kentridge “ drawing is a process of constructing meaning.”

The swiftness of his construction and the shifting provisional worldview that underpins it, is like living in South Africa.

Detail from Kentridge’s “7 Fragments for Georges Melies”

What does it mean to say that something is a drawing - as opposed to a fundamentally different form, such as a photograph? First of all, arriving at the image is a process, not a frozen instant. Drawing for me is about fluidity. There may be a vague sense of what you’re going to draw but things occur during the process that may modify, consolidate or shed doubts on what you know. So drawing is a testing of ideas; a slow-motion version of thought. It does not arrive instantly like a photograph. The uncertain and imprecise way of constructing a drawing is sometimes a model of how to construct meaning. What ends in clarity does not begin that way (Kentridge, 2003)

His style is sketchy showing obvious mark making, primarily in symbolic black and white. His use of primarily black and white not only focus his work on the narrative of the images, but it also reflects the divisions in a social political environment as well as personal internal divisions of his subjects. Although colour plays a relatively small role throughout his work, he incorporates traces of primarily red and blue in his work.

He chooses not to paint because in his view , the medium itself is too assertive; he is more interested in the narrative than in the work’s materiality. His working process itself is essential to the outcome. The drawing fluctuates in form, developing organically and changing, while his eraser acts as to accent, to edit and to modify the charcoal and pastel marks.

If (a) choice has been shattered between the two rooms, what space is between them, what kind of viable way can there be? – Kentridge – Stereoscope

Metaphors and Symbolism in his Work

By using metaphor the unknown is defined by the known. The onlooker thus recognizes a metaphor on the grounds of his existing knowledge and experience of the world and reality and he knows that the metaphorical statement to be literally impossible and/or feasible. (Ref)

Although Kentridge draws on his perceptions of the South African experience, his expression of his themes is humanist and reflects issues beyond South Africa’s contemporary history. He communicates by means of metaphors; and with repeated use, his pictorial motifs have become a personal hieroglyphic code, a shorthand conveying multiple messages and performing varying functions in the narrative. The inconstancy of ironic meanings, the deliberate conceptual ambiguities and the wealth of artistic allusions all contribute to the density of his texts. They remain open to alternative interpretations, but they become more legible to viewers who are familiar with his work.

Light and Dark; To Kentridge the physical and metaphysical qualities of light, dark and shadows is a way of thinking about the world and how perspectives of memory is gained or lost in the passage of time.

From Stereoscope" (1999)

From Stereoscope” (1999)

Metamorphosis: In Kentridge’s films the function of metamorphosis is to connect different events, plots and images, which in turn connects different scenes of time and space. Through the transitional stage of metamorphosis, the gap between the illogical or unexpected images unfold without obstacle.

Shadows in Kentridge’s work, implies a split self; reflecting the roles we play in life and the illusory ideal self, similar to the Jungian psychological concept of shadow, for example; his characters Soho and Felix are two different sides of one character rather than two fundamentally different characters.

According to Kentridge, “one‟s relationship to one‟s own shadow – which is not the same as oneself, which one does not own, but which is an inescapable attribute and accompaniment” is a “midpoint between a familiar self and the otherness of the rest of the world”.

From – Stereoscope

Objects and architecture in his work most often date back to the 1950s period, reflecting according to Kentridge, that a lot of his work is trying to mine a childhood set of responses to the world.

The first time you see a picture of violence there is a kind of shock that you don’t get once you’ve seen thousands of pictures like this on television. There is an element of trying to go back to an earlier stage, of trying to recapture the sensitization, and I think part of the images of drawing backwards in time has to do with trying to capture a different way of seeing. (Ref)

From – History of the Main Complaint, 1996

The act of looking, is a crucial motif in his art practice. Literal examples of this motif are the pair of eyes reflected in a rear-view mirror in The History of the Main Complaint or the colonial land surveying equipment through which Nandi and Felix Teitlebaum view each other in Felix in Exile. For Kentridge, however, what one chooses to represent in the world has always been as valuable as how one chooses to represent it.

His series of animations were called  Drawings for Projection. which is a concept, according to Kentridge, of how an object is viewed. A tree for example has as many projections as it is viewed. Each person sees the same object in a different way, so that one object may have thousands of projections. Reversely, for Kentridge each one of us is also a projection station.

From – Felix in Exile, 1994

For Kentridge “what we do when we look through a camera lens” can be regarded “as a metaphor for what we do when we look through our own lives”: we may “understand the artificial nature of looking through a camera, but we don‟t understand the unnatural activity of looking when we are just looking, how when we look it is not simply a matter of the world coming into us, but it is us constructing the natural world as we understand it.”

Camera (Central Boiler Station), 2010. Indian ink, charcoal and pastel on page from central boiler station ledger book.

Drawing from Tide Table: Officers with Binoculars. 2003

Other objects used for viewing, like the stereoscope works as a surrogate for the camera. Like the X-ray, the theodolite, the M.R.I., the cat scan, binoculars, and other instruments that have appeared in his works, which represent different ways of seeing, and different ways to represent the world. To Kentridge this is a way of understanding the world through a representation; an actual X-ray or M.R.I., again, is one way, and the stereoscope is another way to understand the world.

The megaphone, that often appears as part of his iconography was inspired by seeing Lenin using a megaphone. A megaphone is also an object that have become iconic in resistance art images. In Kentridge’s work the megaphone may stand for a symbol of faceless power and dictatorship or may simply represent the artist’s own voice.

Cambio 1999

Self-portraiture; The incorporation of Kentridge’s own figure, is never simple self-portraiture, but a means whereby the artist acknowledges personal and collective responsibility. It is also a clear declaration of a preoccupation with the human condition that makes his work both social and general.

William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Stereoscope, 1998–99

Presenting the male figure in the nude implies that the character is unconventional, or ‘outside culture.’ In contrast with accepted norms, where it is ok to depict women in the nude as representations of beauty, it is more important for white men to be clothed.

Characters; Many of the characters in Kentridge’s films become symbolic representations. The characters of Ubu and Soho Eckstein symbolise an Apartheid vision of South Africa and the darker side in us all.

Kentridge’s films generally focus on individual characters. Thus thematics in Kentridge’s art evolve through the device of characterisation. There are two main characters who appear in most of the films: Soho Eckstein who is a Johannesburg industrialist and Felix Teitelbaum who is the sensitive poetic type and an artist. While Soho and Felix are drawn as separate characters, they represent different sides of the same person and more universally our own alter egos.

Other characters include Faustus and Zeno, both tragicomic figures who struggle with their own idea of themselves as opposed to how they appear to others.

Another two important characters in Kentridge’s films include Nandi, and Harry who is the leader of the poor and oppressed.

William Kentridge, An Embarkation. Charcoal on paper, 1988

Landscape: Kentridge has written extensively on concepts of landscape and memory. Kentridge draws a parallel between the exploitation of the natural landscape and that of South Africa’s people under Apartheid. History, memory, geography and identity constantly shift and change.

‘Drawing is not unlike the structure and evolution of the South African landscape.’

He has discussed the long tradition of the South African landscape in paintings and in particular the celebratory landscapes of Jan Volschenk (1853-1936), and J.H. Piemeef (1886-1957). Kentridge calls their versions of the South African landscape “documents of disremembering.”. He has also cited how the landscape of Auschwitzbears bears little to no trace of the World War II carnage. In early “American” painting and the Hudson River School, acts of disremembering were the feature characteristics of the art. Idyllic settings provided a corollary to American ideals of Manifest Destiny and the taming of the rustic outdoors, including the Native Americans in their way. It is in this light (or shadow) that Kentridge’s work can be seen. (Ref)

From Felix in Exile

“The landscape hides its history . … there is a similarity between a painting or drawing—which is oblivious to its position in history—and the terrain itself, which also hides its history”. By creating “imperfect” works filled with smudged images and traces of what has been erased, Kentridge’s work counters this “hiding” or absorption of history by the landscape.

In an introductory note to Felix In Exile, Kentridge writes, “In the same way that there is a human act of dismembering the past there is a natural process in the terrain through erosion, growth, dilapidation that also seeks to blot out events. In South Africa this process has other dimensions. The very term ‘new South Africa’ has within it the idea of a painting over the old, the natural process of dismembering, the naturalization of things new.”

In his work he never forgets the bodies that are now only streetlamps or steel girders.

In his open landscapes, such as in the Embarbarkation for example, the vista and the endless space sets a mood of loneliness and loss.

‘Felix in Exile’ (Death of Nandi), 1994

The film Felix in Exile (1994) which was made just before the first  general election in South Africa, and questioned the way in which the people who had died on the journey towards South Africa becoming a democratic state would be remembered. He uses the landscape as a metaphor for the process of remembering and forgetting. For example in Felix in Exile, Nandi, observes the land with surveyor’s instruments, watching African bodies, with bleeding wounds, which melt into the landscape. She is recording the evidence of violence and massacre that is part of South Africa’s recent history. Kentridge thus makes the connection between how landscape forms and erodes and how our sense of history (i.e. what is remembered and what is forgotten) is malleable.

Red: In “ Felix in Exile, ” red color is used extensively in Nandi’s depictions of landscape. The places where the corpses lay, as well as their wounds, were marked clearly in red. Red symbolizes blood, wounds, death, and violence. For example, when Nandi was shot down on the ground, the blue water flowing down from the faucet turned red. It is a declaration of Nandi’s death. The dark red blood flowing out from the old wounds of the unknown corpse is a silent narrative of South Africa’s violent history

Blue: Blue is associated with peace, waiting, hope, retrospection, and sorrowfulness. In “ History of the Main Complaint, ” a pail with blue water is placed in a corner close to Soho’s bed in the hospital. Here, blue water symbolizes redemption and hope.

Stereoscope,” 1998–99

Water: In his dominant palette of black and white, the occasional touches of blue often signifies water and water’s ambiguous sensual fluidity and capacity to renew. Blue water further symbolises emotions, emotional connection and healing in his films.

Felix in Exile, the flood of blue water in the hotel room, brought about by the process of painful remembering, symbolises tears of grief and loss and the Biblical flood which promises new life. (Ref)

… mental pictures are like reflections in water … the reflection is not like  the original, nor the images like the real object – Aristotle

Another possible symbolic meaning of water is “ seeing one’s own reflection. ” This echoes - that everyone is seeking his/ her missing half. To him, the so-called “ missing half ” is the forgotten memory and conscience, in other words, the kindness and innocence inherent in humanity.

In Kentridge’s films, water, dream and drawing imply each other. They are metaphors for love that is out of reach, forgotten memory and history, dreams in the past and future, eternal redemption, or the missing half.

Fish: Within the context of Johannesburg 2nd Greatest City after Paris water as an element becomes, a medium for sensuality and freedom and the fish becomes a metaphor for love. The fish symbol is also repeated in Kentridge’s other animation films. (Ref)

http://www.artthrob.co.za/05editions/profile014.html

Untitled, 2007 Lithograph and collage

Rhino; The rhino is a symbol of an exploitative, colonialist view of Africa, a symbol for the subjugation of a continent stripped of its natural resources for European benefit. This was developed previously in an earlier animation, Mine (1991), in which Soho Eckstein, the mine owner, digs up a whole social and ecological history out of the earth and receives a miniature rhino from the miners, African heritage reduced to a trinket, as he drinks his morning cup of coffee.(Ref)

Hyena; The symbolism of hyenas in South Africa is associated with evil, dark spirits and mischief. It became a prominent symbol in Resistance art in South Africa, as symbols of repression and oppression, and often stand in for oppressive authorities.

kentridge other faces 2

Technique used in his animated films

Animation literally means to bring to life. This happens when still images or
drawings are combined to simulate the illusion of movement. This technique
literally personifies the drawings or photographs to tell the story by means of
the visual element. Dialogue, sound and colour can be added to enhance the
illusion. (Ref)

Drawing is a testing of ideas – a slow-motion version of thought. It does not arrive instantly like a photograph. The uncertain and imprecise way of constructing a drawing is sometimes a model of how to construct meaning. What ends in clarity does not begin that way. Kentridge

The animated films of William Kentridge evolved when he decided to record the process of creating a drawing. Rather than starting with an idea that is then executed, Kentridge relies on these freeform processes and the resulting juxtapositions to find connections and raise questions. (Ref) He does not work out the story board of the film before he begins, it rather develops in the process of making the film, or in the process of making a drawing. According to Kentridge, all his work begins with the impulse or the desire to draw.  His technique is more about making a drawing than making a film.

He uses a sheet of paper hanging on the wall, onto which he makes drawings that will be modified and photographed hundreds of times. Unlike the commercial technique of cell animation, which uses a new drawing for every frame of film, Kentridge’s animation technique is simple and primitive: he draws and adjusts his rough charcoal drawings in succession  by the -introduction of new marks (re-drawing), or the erasure of pre-existing ones by using an eraser or a cloth. He then shoots one or two frames, goes back to the drawing, changes it, goes back to the camera, and so on. By erasing certain areas of a drawing and re-drawing, he creates the next frame.

There are not thousands of drawings, as you would have in commercial animation technique, only 20 to 40 different ones, which are the key frames for the major sequences.

To shoot the next scenes, he reworks a drawing or draws a new one and continues the filming process. By using this sequential animation technique, Kentridge creates movement within the context of time and space. Several of these large drawings may be needed for a single scene. Through this process,  a whole new set of drawings are created that Kentridge believes he would never have arrived at otherwise. The actual filming process becomes a way of arriving at a set of drawings. (Ref)

The elements of line and tone, especially in the broad strokes of his large drawings, are equivalents for, rather than simulations of the reality that a pictorial language based in colour would produce.

His erasure technique leaves grey smudges, ghost images and traces of the whole progress of each sequence on the paper. Filming not only records the changes in the drawing but also reveals the history of those changes. Traces of what has been erased are still visible to the viewer. As the film unfolds, a sense of fading memory or the passing of time and the traces it leaves behind are portrayed. These traces capture the passing of time and the layering of events in remembrance, so that it becomes a metaphor for how events fades in memory, or how all that is left of historical events in the landscape is just traces. (Ref)

Kentridge’s drawings explore the borders between memory and amnesia, drawing and erasure. The process of re-drawing and erasure means that each drawing is poised in a state of uncertainty. Each stage of the drawing carries with it the visual memory and history of its recent past. (Ref)

His technique is likened to palimpsests, or also called  inedited technique. This animation on a palimpsest allows for great freedom in developing the concepts of history, memory, loss, and renewal, all of which arise in Kentridge’s examination of the social climate in South Africa.

In all of his animated works the concepts of time and change comprise a major theme, which he conveys through his erasure technique. Unlike the  conventional cel-shaded animation, whose seamlessness de-emphasizes the fact that it is actually a succession of hand-drawn images. Kentridge’s technique grapples with what is not said, what remains suppressed or forgotten but can easily be felt. (Ref)

http://www.art21.org/anythingispossible/slideshow/on-animated-films/

William Kentridge. 9 Drawings for Projection (1989–2003), 2005.

Synopsis and Background of Drawings for Projection

Between 1989 and 2003 Kentridge made a series of nine short films that allegorize South Africa’s political upheavals through the lives of three characters: a greedy property developer, his neglected wife and her poet lover. He eventually gathered the films under the title Drawings for Projection. In 1989, he began the first of those animated movies, Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris. The series runs through Monument (1990), Mine (1991), Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old (1991), Felix in Exile (1994), History of the Main Complaint (1996), Weighing and Wanting (1998), and Stereoscope (1999), up to Tide Table (2003) and Other Faces, 2011.

Over the course of the films, Kentridge tells the story of Soho Eckstein, Mrs. Eckstein and Felix Teitlebaum. The early films focus on Soho’s expansion of his mining empire on the outskirts of Johannesburg and his struggle with Felix Teitlebaum over his wife. In Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old, the loss of his wife induces feelings of personal as well as social guilt. The fifth film (Felix in Exile) focusing on Felix entirely, and the next three turn back towards Soho and his struggle for forgiveness. Finally, in Stereoscope, Soho’s industrial success is undone by violent uprisings in the street, but he has regained the love of his wife. This brief synopsis of the films describes the framework, upon which Kentridge creates layer upon layer of meaning. (Ref)

The individual is taken as the starting point, around which Kentridge weaves the complexity of South African life during apartheid and post-apartheid into the narrative. In addition, this individual refers more than once to Kentridge himself, introducing an autobiographical element in his artwork. Telling the story starting from the trivial daily life of the three characters not only serves as an attractive feature for the audience, but also allows a symbolic interpretation indicative of the tunnel vision of a South Africa under international siege at the end of the Apartheid.

‘By the time this film [Johannesburg, 2nd  Greatest City after Paris (1989)] was made, worldwide pressure on South Africa to abolish the apartheid system had reached perhaps its greatest intensity, with any number of cultural and economic boycotts in place to isolate the nation as much as possible until it did so. By creating a film in which the main characters are caught up in seemingly pointless brooding about their personal affairs, Kentridge makes an important point about the peculiar form of tunnel vision characteristic of societies under siege. – Dan Cameron

The last three films explicitly tackle issues of memory and guilt. This story line cannot be interpreted without regarding the establishment of the The Truth and Reconciliation Committee, set up in the National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995. The Commission was established to provide a public forum for the victims of state racism to confront their perpetrators and to have the brutality of apartheid publicly exposed and admitted. The goal was to provide ‘as complete a picture as possible of the nature, causes and extend of gross human rights violations committed between March 1 1960 and December 5 1993.’

Without explicitly referencing to  the activities of the committee, it is clear that the story line of Kentridge’s film cycle has been consistently – be it consciously or subconsciously – been influenced by its existence.

While every film, as a separate entity, which allows for a number of connotations, one can distinguish the most significant layers of political meaning in the recurring themes  (Ref)

Images from Felix in Exile

Felix in Exile, 1994

In Felix in Exile, the fifth film of the series made between September 1993 and February 1994, Kentridge depicts the barren East Rand landscape as witness to the exploitation of and violence against both natural and human resources. Isolated in a hotel room, Felix peruses the survey charts of Nandi, a young black woman who maps the history of the terrain. Figures and structures are subsumed into the landscape or night sky, allegories for how the land can bear the scars of crimes against humanity.

Through his two main protagonists, Felix Teitlebaum (a sensitive, artistic everyman) and Soho Eckstein (the stereotypical empire-building businessman), Kentridge collapses the usual moral distinctions between irresponsible capitalist and socially-aware artist, between the perpetrator of injustice and the awakening social activist. As the distinction between the two characters blurs, we are made aware of the probability that impulses normally considered to be polar opposites coexist within an individual.

Created right before the first general elections in South Africa, Felix in Exile examines the nature of national memory when faced with the sacrifices made to reach that point in contemporary South Africa. In the film, Felix meets Nandi, an African woman surveying the death and destruction after a brutal massacre, against a landscape that threatens to absorb the bodies and erase all traces of their existence.

This film warns that people are covering up or choosing to forget the realities of the past as part of their creation of a new South African identity. Felix, the well meaning, if slightly ignorant artist, awakens from his naïve reverie to a fuller grasp of this harsh reality. Nandi serves here as a metaphor for the painful but necessary process of remembrance. Additionally, this work points out the similar properties of both landscapes and paintings, which both depict a certain reality while concealing the history of their development. (Ref)

Drawings from History of Main Complaint

History of the Main Complaint 1996

Kentridge created the sixth film History of the Main Complaint in 1996 during the initial hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at which apartheid’s crimes were first publicly admitted while the perpetrators were granted indemnity in the hope of healing profound social and historical wounds in this post-apartheid society. In the film Soho lies comatose in a hospital ward, suffering from the weight of his past acts as well as those for which he is implicated due to his race and class. MRIs and CAT scans reveal his affliction, as memories of violence committed against black South Africans float across the screen. The relationship between individual and collective guilt is played out when Soho regains consciousness only through acknowledging his own responsibility. (Ref)

Kentridge began this film as a project to determine the feasibility of combining his unique style of charcoal animation with the music of Monteverdi, alongside an exploration of modern scientific methods of examining the body. What begins in the film as an examination of Soho’s comatose body evolves into a journey through his memory in which his persona seems to merge with Felix’s as he surveys scenes of death. In one scene, he relives an accident in which his car struck and killed a man. It is the realization of his responsibility for this death that finally brings him back to consciousness. When the hospital curtains are withdrawn, however, we find Soho back in his office, and it is unclear whether his journey has changed anything. This medical exam serves as an allegory for the reconciliation process, whose ultimate moral effectiveness is unclear. Of particular interest is the fact that his examiners are also in pinstriped suits (Soho’s industrialist uniform), perhaps suggesting their complicity and thus shared responsibility with their patient. (Ref)

Automatic Writing, 2003

By Isabel Baraona

 Automatic Writing was made 2003. Within Kentridge’s work, Automatic writing can be interpreted as an allegory of the intimate and fluid relation between story telling through image and/or words. According to Kentridge, the sequences with several successive transformations of words, numbers, isolated letters or sentences in other elements, work as a calligraphy associated with “automatic writing”. Automatic writing was a common method used by the Dadaists and Surrealists’ to write poetry or to draw images. In the XIX century it was used by mediums to get in contact with spirits of the diseased; and also, as an instrument of psychoanalysis  since it easily allows the “user” to get in touch with his or her subconscious.

The content of Automatic writing is unmistakably self-referent in many levels and it can also be seen as implying the importance of his wife’s Anne presence in the atelier. William Kentridge explains the role played by this female figure: “(…) she gets drawn into the words and disappears again and drawn in to words and disappears again and the third or the fourth time it grows into me next to her. (…) she disappears back in to words and a self-portrait kind of representation is left at the table.”

She plays a more indefinable role than the conventional “muse”; her presence in the studio also works as a metaphor for the emotional inner-life, a mediator between public and private space.

Analysis of Works

To analyse, or to read any of Kentridge’s works, you need to be familiar with his oeuvre, his metaphors and symbolism which serves like key to his personal alphabet. You will see the same metaphors and symbols repeated throughout his works, in different contexts, which are all placed in context of the South African History, within the framework of Johannesburg and his personal experiences of the events. Each mark is a trace and reference to things of the past – thus history. His individual artworks cannot be analysed in isolation, but must be seen in context of the rest of his works.  Kentridge’s prints are often starting points for further explorations in his other works.

The Conservationist Ball;

The Conservationist Ball; Culling, Gamewatching, Taming,1985

His interest in in the triptych format was inspired by the work of Max Beckmann and Francis Bacon. The triptych format was ideal for his interest in story telling, the progression of time and social commentary.

This large triptych displays many of the features that distinguish William Kentridge as an artist.  It is primarily in symbolic black and white. His use of primarily black and white not only focus his work on the narrative of the images, but it also reflects the divisions in a social political environment as well as personal internal divisions of his subjects.

It also is not strictly a painting, though subtle elements of gouache is incorporated, which provides a minimal touch of colour to the predominantly black and grey imagery. But neither is it decisively a drawing. The ambiguity of technical procedure is a distinctive feature of Kentridge’s artistic personality and a link between his cinematic and pictorial work. This triptych also contains many of the metaphors and symbols that appears in his later animations.

Characteristically, he establish an evocative setting, an emotionally charged ambiance in which the scenario unfolds. In Culling and Gamewatching, the atmospheric space is a deep, receding interior. In the third panel, Taming, the setting is a claustrophobic deep, alley with steep sides of barricaded city walls, filled with wrecks of cars, creating a feeling of a post apocalyptic scenario.

The pictorial elements of the three scenes include recurrent Kentridge motifs and metaphors: men in evening dress, symbolic beasts like the rhino, cheetah and the hyena. Included in panel I is a camera and in panel II, binoculars, metaphors for the act of looking, which is a crucial motif in Kentridge’s art. Typically also, is his partial self-image, which is reflected in the mirrors of Panel I and II and on the billboard in Panel III. To Kentridge the incorporation of his own figure, is never simple self-portraiture, but a means whereby he acknowledges personal and collective responsibility. It is also a declaration of a preoccupation with the human condition that makes his work both social and general.

The characters in the Conservationist Ball are preoccupied and self-contained, connected to the world outside through their private drama only by the mirrored presence of the artist, the unobserved eavesdropper. In contrast the hyena in Panel III stares out accusingly and meets the viewer’s gaze head on.

The satirical substance of the title and subtitles is communicated in various subtle details of the scenes enacted, in iconographical allusions and in visual puns:

Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656

Panel I, Culling, in which repeated echoes of Velazquez’s Las Meninas add overtones of secondary meaning is set in an artist’s studio. He uses a dramatic perspective, which adds to the feeling of intrigue and discomfort of the image. It depicts a moment in an enigmatic human drama, in which hypocrisy, infidelity and callousness each seems to play a role.

Panel II, Gamewatching, shows the careless pleasures of the Café Society, but puns on their diversions – the nature of the game, the trophies of the hunt.    The rhino is a symbol for Kentridge of an exploitative, colonialist view of Africa, a symbol for the subjugation of a continent stripped of its natural resources for European benefit.

Panel III, Taming, shows the outcome of panels I and II, and depicts a  commentary on the consequences of human folly. Its visual theme is a decaying city artery, clogged with the remnants of a reckless past. The only living creature of this unnatural habitat is a scavenging hyena – survivor and temporary monarch of the urban wilderness. The symbolism of hyenas in South Africa is associated with evil, dark spirits and mischief. It became a prominent symbol in Resistance art in South Africa, as symbols of repression and oppression, and often stand in for oppressive authorities.

Familiar with the social satire of William Hogarth (1697-1764), whose work he had emulated with his own parable of Industry and Idleness in 1986-7, Kentridge brought this treatment to the current South African situation,  exposing the effects of ‘superior’ colonial culture on the landscape of South Africa which it has exploited, referred to in the Tamming, where the environment has been ‘tamed’ to become a desolate wasteland.

The Boating Party, 1985

The Boating Party, 1985

In the charcoal and pastel triptych, “The Boating Party” (1985), Kentridge recalls the title of Pierre-Auguste Renoir‘s Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) but the charm of the Impressionist Paris, has given way to Kentridge’s vision of a city in which the duality of man is exposed.

Auguste_Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-1881.

Auguste_Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-1881.

This triptych depicts a  Café situated in an outdoor pavilion and the scene suggests the ambience of upper class society. Details draws freely on impressionist art; well-dressed couples dance or are served by waiters, binoculars rest on tables, and numerous other details recall the  Café and theater scenes of Renoir and Dega. Just as Kentridge recently left Paris and returned to Johannesburg, when he created this work, the overlay of French Café  Society is swept aside in a flood of grotesque images, specific to South Africa.

The art historical implication of the title is immediately overridden by the rendering of the scenes. As opposed to the idyllic scene of Renoir, the scene has changed to one of horror. Amidst the revelry we see panting dogs and raw meat atop tables, and behind the back of the elegant woman a burning tyre falls, a clear reference to “necklacing” and the violent political situation in South Africa during that time.

The dinners still seem to be languid, at ease. In the first panel of the triptych, a woman with a particularly haughty expression clasps a warthog like a lapdog, but the waterhog which appears in the first panel is cut up and appears as a jelly in the third.

This contrast between the wealthy privileged lifestyle and the chaos and violence in the townships is further reflected in the use of charcoal and pastel and choice of colours. His use of soft pastels forms a stark contrast with the background violence and heightens the feeling of unease one feels when looking at the art work. His line drawing is also soft and flowing in the women but sharp and rough beyond the fences, in the dog and the burning tyre.

His use of charcoal as a medium with the minimal colour provided by pastels has a historical reference to the early 20th centuary where it was used as a medium of social comment by artists like, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Kathe Kollwitz and South African Artist Dumile Feni. He however not only uses it for social commentary but also for its softness and quickness on paper. The black and white and shadows itself serves as a metaphorical comment on the divisions in society and the Jungian psychological concept of the shadow of the divided self, which he would explore further in his animated movies.

The angular composition is emphasized by the turquoise railing which also serves a device of continuity in throughout the three panels.

By borrowing historical art themes, Kentridge not only translated modern art and culture to South Africa, but also encapsulated his feelings concerning his troubled homeland under Apartheid and his mixed feelings about political art, resulting in ambiguity and contradictions.

kentridge casspirs_full_of_love 2b

Casspirs full of Love, 1989

Casspirs Full of Love, appears deceptively simple compared to the complexity and baroque – like compositions of his earlier triptychs. Neither does it have the depth of perspective of his earlier works. At face value it appears to be a still life depicting a vertical structure resembling a shelved box containing seven severed heads, reminding one of a cabinet of curiosities, or a shelf of heads in a museum waiting to be catalogued. Yet, like his other works, it is far from static and has multiple layers of meaning referring to Kentridge’s rejection of all forms of tyranny. To use one of Kentridge’s expressions; ‘”A whole blackboard of equations reduced to a single line.”

The drypoint intaglio was based on a poster-sized drawing Kentridge made in 1989, on the occasion of his solo exhibition. The title appears in sloping, cursive handwriting on the right side of the image running vertically from top to bottom. ‘What comfort now?’ is written in dots on the left side. Above the first rung-like horizontal partition of the box the words ‘not a step’ is written. The head at the top bears the number 1. The two heads in the narrow, top partition appear to have more western features than those below, which look African.

On the surface, this print refers ironically to the state of emergency prevailing in South Africa during the turbulent political and social climate of the late 1980s , when the revolt against the the Apartheid system was in full swing and the government was under pressure both from external and internal sources. Despite the state of emergency which gave the security forces broad powers to arrest and detain suspects at will, leading to many state-sanctioned murders, as well as banning the media from documenting the racial unrest, there was large scale social unrest and mass demonstrations. The MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe –  Spear of the Nationmilitary wing of the ANC ) also carried out some bombings of civilian, industrial and infrastructural sites during this time.

The title of this work refers to a radio message on a popular radio program for South African troops, in which a mother wished her son in the army on the South African border ‘a good tour of duty’ and ‘a safe return’: “This message comes from your mother, with Casspirs full of love.” Kentridge plays on that irony by forging the association between the heartfelt wishes and the cabinet full of decapitated heads, which refers to the duality that existed within South Africa.

Casspirs are armoured military vehicles; their name is an anagram of the abbreviations CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – the organization that developed them) and SAP (South African Police). The Casspirs were mainly used by the police force and were used first to protect its borders with Angola and Mozambique and later by the to quell riots and demonstrations in the black township communities in South Africa during states of emergency imposed by the apartheid government. The army used mainly Buffels.

The Casspir, became emblem of the violence, oppression and injustice of Apartheid, a way of repressing all hope and faith. In the left hand bottom corner is an outline of a hammer. The hammer symbolises destruction, and deconstruction; that which destroys certainty, embematic of the uncertainty and turbulence of the 80s in South Africa.

‘Casspirs’, were designed and built by the South African security forces. Police would fire shotgun rounds, rubber bullets, tear gas, or water cannon from them.

Kentridge captures the tension between the violence employed by the Casspirs and the message of love sent by friends and family to conscripts in the security forces; contradictions inherent in the apartheid state. This tension is echoed on an aesthetic level through the highly charged, textural surface of the print, contrasted with the soft cursive of the inscription.

Tension is also created through the compositional elements as the ladder like structure appears skew and off balance, so that the picture does not feel static, even though it depicts inanimate objects. This dynamic, rather than static feel of the etching is further emphasized by the scratchy aesthetic of his lines and the strong zig zag line to the left which echoes the diagonal slat in the center of the structure, where the severed heads seem to balance precariously causing  a feeling of discomfort with the viewer. The head in the center is surrounded by lines that gives the effect of of ripples in the water or a feeling of movement. The whole of the image has a feel of instability, reflecting the instability and turbulence of the times.

Through technique of drypoint that is based in drawing, and allows for revision, layering, looseness and speed of illustration, Kentridge  retains his characteristic scratchy, sketch aesthetic range of expressionistic mark making and the free, gestural effect of his smaller drawings and animations.

To Kentridge the technique itself alludes to the historical aspects associated with the medium. Intaglio has a history as a democratic, easily distributed medium.  Artists like Francisco Goya and Otto Dix used etching to satirize the powerful or to illustrate government related atrocities (Ref)

The obvious interpretation is that heads belongs to those killed in riots and demonstrations. The words ‘not a step’ both confirm and deny the ladder-reading of the image, urging us to look deeper. Kentridge’s metaphors are deliberately ambiguous and can be read on multiple levels and often refer not only to one event in time.  Heads in a shelf-like structure  in a desolate landscape, also appears in his movie “Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris,” 1989. Here again the heads refer to those slain in revolt.  But why the shelf-like structure?

kentridge jhb heads

William Kentridge, “Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris,” 1989. Production stills

Its meaning becomes clearer in Black Box / Chambre Noire which is Kentridge’s reflection on the history of  the 1904 German massacre of the Hereros in Southwest Africa (now Namibia). The heads of some of those killed were sent back to the Berlin Institute of Physical Anatomy, to be measured, catalogued for scientific research. An estimated 3,000 skulls were sent to Germany for experimentation. These heads were only recently returned, like Saartjie Baarman’s remains.

images from Black Box/Chambre Noire, 2005

 In the 1991 film Mine, there is also a scene where the miners sleeping on concrete  bunks are depicted to look like heads on a shelf, which in turn visually links to the well known diagram of slave ships.  It is also linked to the title sequence of Mine where a head ambiguously appears to look either like a miner’s head wearing a lamp, or a crowned antique Ife head from Nigeria . The head as icon therefore not only alludes to the victims of revolts against Colonist and Apartheid rule but also alludes to an exotic tourist or colonial view of Africa’s otherness. The structure in this context can then also allude to a cabinet of curiosities or a museum shelf.

Sequence from Mine 1991

Sequence from Mine 1991

http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/evidence/kentridge1.html

Mine Shaft and Slave Ship, 1991

Opening frame from Mine – a miner’s head wearing a lamp or a crowned antique Ife head from Nigeria?

kentridge mine

See the Mine on Vimeo

The Structure can also be linked to the slave ship diagram, illustrating the most economical way of transporting slaves, and the ladder like descend of the mine shaft, as a metaphor for the social-economical structure and conditions in South African and the colonial rule since 1900 and thereafter. It therefore not only refers to a specific incident or example but also the general principle on which a whole capitalist system was abused and maintained, with little or no concern for the social issues involved. (Ref)

Unlike Kentridge’s other animation films, Mine differs in that it presents a vertical cross-section of a mine. A lift carries the workers up the mining shift, out onto the land, which is metamorphosed into Soho’s bed. The film constantly shifts from below to above and vice versa to portray the contrasting surroundings and situations.

This vertical compositional element is also found in the composition of Casspirs full of love, where the ladder-like structure is both the center of the composition and focus, reminiscent of the vertical ascent or descent of Mine. The title is also written vertically, bringing more emphasises to the vertical structure. The structure further divides the composition between right and left side, reflecting the equivalent of the political separation in South Africa .

The vertical structure also suggests key themes of Kentridge’s work – that of memory and the irony of the Western World’s impulse to bring knowledge and light to the dark continent and its tragic consequences in the exploitation of Africa’s resources and its emphasis on the ‘otherness’ of Africans.

In much of the early literature on Africa the nature of the Europeans’ mission was described as the bearing of gifts of civilization, Christianity, peace, justice and good government to the natives. The four C’s – Commerce, Christianity, Civilization, Colonization – were deemed by many liberal-minded Europeans to provide the most effective recipe for the transformation and regeneration of Africa. (Ref)

The structure’s likeness to a cabinet of curiosity brings to mind the historical association of cabinets of curiosities as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater. The Kunstkammer, or cabinet of curiosity, predecessors of modern museums, conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction. (Ref) This connection further strengthens Kentridge’s focus on the underlining causes of the situation in South Africa.

In Mine (also a play on mine as personal possession) when Soho depresses the coffeemaker’s plunger, he initiates a journey to the center of the earth: the plunger drills a deep shaft into the mine of the title, into the shadowed realm that underlies our doing, our thinking, our aspiring. Each stratum passed by the plunger is crowded with artifacts natural and unnatural, bodies and things once covered. (Ref) History has to be excavated to reveal the truth. We have to work at uncovering what we felt when we were first exposed to violence, because we become de-sensitised and memory fades with time.

For Kentridge ambiguity and irony is where reality, history,  memory and wishful thinking meets in a single point. What is on the surface is like a monument to a historical event of massacre – This event in the memory of – it does the remembering for us. 

Although Kentridge draws on his perceptions of the South African experience, his expression of his themes is humanist and reflects issues beyond South Africa’s contemporary history. He communicates by means of metaphors. Casspirs full of Love illustrates Kentridge’s multiple layering of meaning especially well. On one hand it can be seen to depict those slain during the turbulent years of the 1980s but on the other hand it can be seen as a visual monument to all the deaths and suffering in the wake of Colonization and Apartheid. Unlike most Protest or Resistant Art of South Africa from the 80s, Kentridge draws his visual vocabulary not only from that period, but his work can be seen as a protest against all forms of oppression.

Footnote

Drypoint is a printmaking technique of the intaglio family, in which an image is incised into a plate (or “matrix”) with a hard-pointed “needle” of sharp metal or diamond point. Traditionally the plate was copper, but now acetate,zinc, or plexiglas are also commonly used. Like etching, drypoint is easier for an artist trained in drawing to master than engraving, as the technique of using the needle is closer to using a pencil than the engraver’s burin.

http://www.coolhunting.com/culture/william-kentridge.php

References

American Society of Cinematographers
http://www.theasc.com/blog/2010/05/24/william-kentridge%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cnose%E2%80%9D/

Art 21
http://www.art21.org/artists/william-kentridge?expand=1
http://www.art21.org/artists/william-kentridge/images

Artthrob
http://www.artthrob.co.za/99may/artbio.htm
http://www.artthrob.co.za/03mar/reviews/goodman.html

Art in the Studio @ Pitt
http://pitt.libguides.com/content.php?pid=109198&sid=2319538

Artwriter.com.au
http://www.artwriter.com.au/news/william-kentridge-talks-to-artwriter-about-his-latest-sydney-exhibition/

Daniel Bosch, Dispatches from William Kentridge’s Norton Lectures
http://artsfuse.org/53944/fuse-dispatches-lessons-drawn-william-kentridges-six-drawing-lessons/

Dan Cameron, William Kentridge
http://books.google.co.za/books/about/William_Kentridge.html?id=FuDVQgAACAAJ&redir_esc=y

David Krut Projects
http://davidkrutprojects.com/7777/william-kentridge-at-edinburgh-printmakers

Marianne Eliott
http://www.westerncape.gov.za/text/2010/3/18_arts_january_february_50-53.pdf

Guggenheim
http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artwork/9423

Marian Goodman Gallery
http://www.mariangoodman.com/exhibitions/2004-10-23_william-kentridge/

Kate McCrickard – Magic Flute, 2007
http://www.davidkrutpublishing.com/4609/i-am-the-bird-catcher-by-kate-mccrickard

Metropolitan Museum of Art
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kuns/hd_kuns.htm

MoMA – William Kentridge
http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2010/williamkentridge/
http://artinprint.org/index.php/exhibitions/article/the_politics_of_geography_and_process

Museum of Contemporary Art
http://12artspace.wikispaces.com/file/view/William_Kentridge_Education_Kit.pdf

Michael Rothberg, Progress, Progression, Procession: William Kentridge and the Narratology of Transitional Justice
http://michaelrothberg.weebly.com/uploads/5/4/6/8/5468139/rothberg_kentridge_naratology_transitional_justice_.pdf

Norton Lectures
http://mahindrahumanities.fas.harvard.edu/content/norton-lectures

Johann Oppermann, Contrasting Time and Space in William Kentridge’s Film: Johannesburg 2nd greatest city after PARIS
http://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/15043/Oppermann_Contrasting(2003).pdf?sequence=1

Johann Oppermann, The Mine metaphor in the work of William Kentridge
http://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/15351/Opperman_Mine%282001%29.pdf?sequence=1

Franklin Sirmans, William Kentridge
http://www.flashartonline.com/interno.php?pagina=articolo_det&id_art=814&det=ok&title=WILLIAM-KENTRIDGE

South African History Online
http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/william-kentridge

Michael Stern, Africa and Otherness
http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~gerscan/ger_posters/hum_300_s_11.pdf

Susan Steward, A Messenger
http://www.parkettart.com/downloadable/download/sample/sample_id/184

Lucy Bena Stuart-Clark, Fragments of Modernity, Shadows of the Gothic: questions of representation and perception in William Kentridge’s I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008).

Tate
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kentridge-casspirs-full-of-love-p11838/text-summary
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kentridge-cambio-p78560/text-summary

Lilian Tone, Interview with William Kentridge
http://artarchives.net/artarchives/liliantone/tonekentridge.html

The Legacy Project
http://www.legacy-project.org/index.php?page=art_detail&artID=456
http://www.legacy-project.org/index.php?page=art_detail_large&artID=453&num=1

Karen Verschooren, William Kentridge: Complexity and intimacy – Redefining political art in the South African late- and post-apartheid context
http://www.core.org.cn/NR/rdonlyres/Comparative-Media-Studies/CMS-796Fall-2006/EDF7F3AF-E526-42A0-82C8-1F25AF7DEB0A/0/verschooren1.pdf

Viera Pawlikova-Vilhanova, The African Personality or the Dilemma of the Other and the Self in the Philosophy of Edward W. Blyden,1832-–1912
http://www.aepress.sk/aas/full/aas298d.pdf

Wen-Shu Lai, Aesthetics in William Kentridge’s “ Drawings for Projection ”
http://ed.arte.gov.tw/uploadfile/periodical/2172_AE0602_00240043.pdf

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Kentridge
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabinet_of_curiosities

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Nontsikelelo Veleko was born in 1977 in Bodibe, South Africa, and lives and works in Johannesburg. She was brought up in Cape Town and studied photography between 1999 and 2003 at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown precinct in Johannesburg, an initiative co-founded by veteran photographer David Goldblatt.

Nontsikelelo Veleko

In the last couple of years Veleko has been attracting a great deal of attention with her striking work entitled Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder, a depiction of South African street style. Defying the clichés of what life can be like in South Africa, Veleko captures young people dressed in unique outfits, often with handmade elements.

Nontsikelelo Veleko

Focusing on issues of the identity, she examines how people present themselves to the outside world and thus construct their identities. Through the use of fashion and clothing Veleko questions perceived notions of beauty. She focuses her lens on those around her, but at times she also turns the lens towards herself, posing both in guises of various identities and representing herself in self-portraiture.

Nontsikelelo Veleko

She focuses on the fashion they experiment with and how they use art forms such as graffiti for expression. Lolo says about her Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder series of photographs, “I named my project Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder because other people, when they saw those people dressed up like that, would ask: ‘How can you dress up in yellow pants and a lime green jersey with stripes?’ And I thought the way I see beauty and the way I perceive beauty might be different to someone else next to me … So the project is called Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder, because for me they are beautiful. I was excited [by them] I didn’t care what anyone else was saying … It was all about drawing attention around issues of beauty. And it was also about street fashion … But I don’t think that they’re just performing themselves; I’ve lived it. I used to be one of those people…” (Ref)

Nontsikelelo Veleko

By demonstrating various labels she highlights how the culture is shaped by these products. She also uses herself, her identity and her success to understand herself and where she fits into this group.

Nontsikelelo Veleko

Nontsikelelo Veleko was a nominee and finalist of the MTN New
Contemporary Artists in 2003 and has since participated in prominent
local and international exhibitions. In 2006 her photographs were ex

http://mimimagazine.blogspot.com/2010/10/snapshots-beauty-is-in-eye-of-beholder.html

Nontsikelelo “Lolo” Veleko

Further Reading;

Nontsikelelo Veleko’s Wonderland Essay, By Nadia Arnold
http://astrochicksphotodiary.blogspot.com/2009/07/essay-nontsikelelo-veleko-wonderland.html

Standard Bank Arts
http://www.standardbankarts.co.za/media/8906/nontsikelelo_veleko.pdf

Ze Frank critiques a kid named Will’s groundbreaking work of art entitled “Monkey Farter.”

In the same vein, a brilliant comment left by Nic Stroud must be added to complete this;

Unfortunately there is one small detail the critic of this masterpiece has failed to notice. The artist invites us to notice that “it also has butt checks”, rather than “but cheeks”.

This classic device used by the artist to fool us momentarily, leaves us needing to re-evaluate our whole outlook of the piece.

Portrait of Willie Bester by Enzo Dal Verme

Biography

Willie Bester was born in the town of Montagu near Cape Town in 1956 to a Xhosa father who was a migrant labourer and a mother classified coloured. Under the Apartheid laws,Bester was classified ‘other coloured’ because his parents were defined as a mixed race couple. His siblings, were classified as black and registered in the name of their father, Vakele. Under apartheid law, mixed race families were not allowed a home in the “Coloured” areas of Montague. The only lodgings available to migrant workers, in Montague as elsewhere, were single-sex hostels in large compounds behind high fences. Therefore, the only circumstances in which the family could be together during Bester’s childhood was to live in informal accommodation in other people’s back yards.

 Bester displayed his talents early in life when as a young boy, he began making toy cars out of recycled wire, which was common enough among children at the time. However, Bester’s wire cars were covered in metal and expressively decorated. He began experimenting with painting by the time he was seven.

http://www.mennonitemission.net/STORIES/BEYONDOURSELVES/PROPHETICPURSUIT/Pages/Racingtocommonground.aspx

The draadkar, a well-known toy on the African continent, is a wire car crafted from found items rejected as scraps.

Although a promising student, Bester dropped out of school after the ninth grade to help the family economically by making and selling shoes and crafts. However in his late teens, Bester, like many other unemployed youth from the townships and rural areas at the time, were “drafted” to the Eersterivier Cadet Rehabilitation Center for a year, where they were forced to do army-type of training . There however, he was introduced to painting as someone gave him art materials. (Ref)

(untitled) Truck

The racism he experienced in the apartheid army and the real consequences of the war he witnessed, influenced him deeply and was to have a decisive impact on his life. He was forced to confront the racial self-hatred that was engendered by being part of the apartheid army, fighting his own people. (Ref)

Social Engineering 2

After working as a dental technician’s assistant for 15 years in Cape Town, at the age of 30, Bester was drawn to his childhood love for art. In 1982, he held his first solo exhibition. His early work were street scenes and landscapes.

South African street scene, 1995

He began to attend part-time classes at the seminal Community Arts Project (CAP) in District Six in 1986. In the context of the heightened political resistance of the mid-1980s, Bester found an intellectual home with the community of socially committed artists he began to associate with. He began to express his developing political conscience through his art. As part of this collective of artists, Bester played an active role in the anti-apartheid movement.

http://www.brundyngonsalves.com/exhibitions/2011/implemented-environments/

Zwelethu Mthethwa and Willie Bester, Experiment 5 … Wat ga’ aan

At CAP, Bester honed his technique and developed his characteristic use of mixed media to express his political views by using a combination of photographs, paint and found materials in layered symbolism  By the late 1980s, Bester began to achieve a measure of success as an artist and he turned professional in 1991. Bester emerged as one of South Africa’s most important resistance artists. He is recognised internationally for his ground-breaking anti-apartheid work.  (Ref)

Influences

Since its invention by Picasso and Braque in the period of Synthetic Cubism,the rubbish collages of the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters and the early Pop assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg, representation of the real world through the combination of found objects, is a theme that has been explored many times. However, opposite to what used to occur at the time of historical avant-garde, his use of waste material do not belong to the anti-art dimension but it is actually a structural part of the themes that he explores. He uses found objects to form an integral part of the social statements he makes through his art and so forms a personal iconography. 

His art works are a combinations of found objects which he gathers from the very townships he depicts. Willie sees rubbish dumps as symbols of the community in which he lives. (Ref) Just as people often regard those living in the townships as rejects of society, his works in themselves symbolises the falseness of that perception. To show people that something unexpected, something valued can come from what is regarded as rubbish, he assembles his art works from it. His works  also comment on everyday life in the township of people in the Western Cape.

Township Scene, 1994

Before he joined the  Community Arts Project in Cape Town, in 1988, he was painting and creating artworks  in the Western art styles. He believed that art meant depicting the natural surroundings. He was unaware at that stage that a message could be created through a work, especially a political one. He wanted to further his art studies, since he knew from a young age that he wanted to create art, but he found that most art institutions were reserved for white people only.

At CAP, his fellow students were expressing themselves and their feelings about Apartheid. Like many South African Artists of the time, they were actively involved in the political struggle against Apartheid, creating posters and having discussions on issues beyond the borders, such as the cross border massacres of the SADF. It was within the that environment that Bester realized  how he could contribute to anti=apartheid movement through his art. His special focus was on the townships and the lives of the people in it.

Characteristics and Themes

He became known for his signature mixed media creations, using scrap materials – acquired from local dumps – combined with the use of oil paints and photographs, often taken by himself. Over the years, Bester enlarged the scale of his compositions and started using a greater range and variety of discarded material to build up surfaces and increase the sense of spatial extension. These technical developments were accompanied by a growing concern to record the complex experience of township life and his own history within it.  His works are all linked, because their subjects, if they are not themselves set in the environment of the Western Cape townships, are invariably represented in that context.

Bester’s conscious use of these materials is a homage to his past, and the many compatriots who find creative ways to house themselves and to survive. With these, he expresses the textured themes of his work, which include forced removals, township life, gender oppression and the brutalisation of South African society. (Ref)

He uses the leftovers of the society he depicts in order to retrace the political history of South Africa. Like an archaeologist, Bester reconstructs the fabric of this history to reveal the hidden faces of the South African township. His works are vivid collages, juxtapositions of odds and ends, of rubbish found in the townships: shoes, bones, tin cans, newspaper clippings, pages of books, scrap metal. (Ref)

“People have built up a resistance to anything that addresses the psyche of mankind or people or themselves. I believe that we must protest against that which is wrong. There is no form of escape; remaining apolitical is a luxury that South Africans simply cannot afford.”(Ref)

In more recent years, Bester has explored contemporary themes arising from the challenges of post-apartheid South Africa such as crime, greed, poverty and corruption. For him, resistance to apartheid was fundamentally about humanity and human rights, which he continues to be vigilant about.

“What I try to get behind is why it is so difficult for people to change from their old ways. It hasn’t worked out the way I imagined. People who thought they were superior before haven’t really changed. I try to find out through studying history what gives people the right to think that way. I try to find a solution, not to be disappointed, to reach an understanding. The Truth Commission seemed to be one of the answers, but now I find that even the Truth Commission is a trap. It has done more damage than good, because the ANC was favoured over the Afrikaners. I want to do a series about it.”

Over the last decade Bester’s focus has shifted to combine fresh conceptual directions with familiar themes and materials. His latest works consists mainly of waste metal and other debris of industrial, agricultural and domestic activity. His art fuses new ideas into works that comment powerfully, occasionally humourously, on diverse socio-political issues, some global, some uniquely South African.

Bly Uit Oortreders Sal Geskiet Word, 2004

Bester for example uses a technique of creating see-through constructions in order to magnify inner worlds which is exemplified by Bly uit Oortreders sal geskiet word. A galvanized petrol can is flayed open like an anatomical model. An intricately wired interior world suggestive of an electrical station, a computer or a petrol pump is contained and exposed by a glass barrier. This inner world is guarded by a doll dressed as a watchman, obviously Caucasian, probably made in China for consumption by children in the so-called West. It stares at the viewer through an ominous threat in Afrikaans, as a comment on the global oil-based technology and its social impact. Through this work and other works in his ‘Metalized’ (2005)  exhibition, Bester examines some of the power dynamics that are currently at play in the new South Africa. He questions the state’s concern with maintaining a balance between freedom and security in works that are conceptually dense, while presenting us with intimate depictions of people struggling to be free. (Ref)

Willie Bester SECURITY GUARD

Small metal tiles and objects are fused into a remodelled and reshaped “skin .” Utilitarian objects are re-contextualised into relief works or monumental freestanding figures with forceful messages, for example, the  Security Guard so familiar to anyone accustomed to the South African urban life. While the figure’s uneasy stance, sideways glance and partially exposed skeletal frame of cogs and bolts convey an underlying tension, indicative of profound and complex paradoxes in capitalist society.

Bester is a strongly intuitive colourist whose painting remains as clear and incisive as ever. He still works in a grass roots environment where, in many ways, little has changed. This is why his comments on society’s ongoing injustices, like abuse of women and children, continue unabated. Metal is a powerful medium conveying a powerful message. His painted panels, contrasting so strikingly with the galvanized metalwork, combine almost seamlessly in the constructions, adding a world of socio-political inquiry. His unique way of combining painting with sculpture acts as a silent metaphor for the unique ways in which Willie Bester straddles the worlds of high art and every day life, never losing sight of socially sensitive concerns.

Materials

 A major part of all Bester’s works to date are the found objects he gathers from townships near his house and includes in his collages. The discarded materials are rich in symbolic meaning, and Bester creates an original iconography from the most varied and unlikely sources. He uses a motley array of objects such as machine parts, old sacking, sticks, various tin cans, sheep bones and wire netting. These objects are chosen not only for the way they convey the texture of the townships, but also for their symbolic significance which he discovers within them

Kakebeen (1993), Wood, bone, metal, lether, oil paint and newspaper on board

The materials themselves are very significant. Bester often includes newspaper photographs and text to illustrate a work. However, because the photographs and text are from a newspaper, they also illustrate that what is depicted is a newsworthy event. Bester also often includes photographs that he has taken himself. The meaning of these pictures is more representational, but they show that the artist was present in the environment, and shows his personal identification with the events photographed.

Domestic Worker

http://williebester.net/portfolio/domestic-worker

Domestic Worker 2

Technique

http://www.vgallery.co.za/2002article10/vzine.htm

Bester pays minute attention in equal measure to conceptual visualization, selection of parts, physical construction and final finishing of his works. Current political or social incidents provide the impetus for him to visit his “art shop “, a local scrap yard, where he spends days selecting every detail for the “anatomy ” of his planned subject. Back in his studio in Kuilsrivier the pieces are carefully laid out on the floor before building begins, usually from the feet up, ensuring a strong substructure. As the work proceeds, balancing metal forces, dictated by the laws of gravity, unite into form and idea. (Ref)

Current political or social incidents provide the impetus for him to visit his “art shop “, a local scrap yard, where he spends days selecting every detail for the

When a sculpture is complete, it is transported to an industrial galvanizing plant where it is galvanized to prevent future deterioration. Having worked in the international art world and dealt with major museums and collectors around the world, Willie is aware of conservation concerns for artworks in collections and therefore expends much time and care on the final finishing of his works.

http://www.vgallery.co.za/34long/metalized.htm

Willie Bester Security Guard (detail) 2005, recycled metal

Analysis of His Works

Forced Removals, 1988

As a part-time student at the Community Arts Project in Cape Town in 1988, the blatant attacks on the Apartheid system in the work of his fellow students, was an eye opener to him. The critical environment of the art school inspired him to produce two works, Forced Removals and Don’t Vote, that protested the  injustices of the Group Areas Act and the racial composition of the apartheid voters’ roll. The medium that Bester chose to express these themes of protest was a collage of waste material and conventional artistic forms that has since become his hallmark. The success of these first explorations with “mixed-media collage” and in the physical and symbolic use of township waste, encouraged Bester to pursue his career as an artist.

In Forced Removals, Bester depicts a scene common to many township and squatter camp residents during the Apartheid era: the forced removal of people from their makeshift or permanent homes at the hands of the government. The removals were usually sudden and violent, with police and soldiers entering the townships. This was often a very painful and emotional time for those families forced to leave their homes with only the possessions they could carry. Townships such as Sophiatown in Johannesburg and District Six in Cape Town are two examples of flourishing communities that were completely destroyed by the Apartheid government. (Ref)

Destruction of houses during forced removals in District Six Destruction of houses during forced removals in District Six Cape Town, South Africa, 1974

Sophiatown residents waiting for the trucks after the force removals in 1956. Photography Jurgen Schadeberg.

The focus of the composition is the bright yellow bulldozer in the process of destroying District Six, with callous disregard to the inhabitants feelings. The bulldozer in itself becomes a symbol of the brutality involved in the destruction of a once thriving community. Bester uses photographic cut-outs for the two people standing behind the bulldozer, which brings the reality of the situation home to the viewer. They appear to be in a state of shocked numbness. By using photographs of actual people Bester effectively brings home the message that forced removals wasn’t just some distant event in history that affected  anonymous people, and personalize the suffering the inhabitants experienced. To the left, a man appears to attempting to salvage some possessions, and one gets the feeling that that the bulldozers did not even wait for the the people to remove their possessions.

Bester treated the rest of the painting as a realistic painting of township life and in doing so, the viewer feels even more poignantly that soon the bulldozer will destroy the colourful scene forever. The bulldozer becomes not just the focal point of the painting, but also a disturbing element in what would otherwise just be a depiction of a street scene.

willie bester forced removals detail

At the bottom right hand corner Bester enigmatically stenciled the words “Made in England,” giving a visual impression that it could be part of an old packing crate found on a rubbish dump. This use of stenciling is both reflective of the reality that the scene will soon just be rubble, a rubbish dump and perhaps also a comment on the economic system itself.  Like Bester’s other works, Forced Removals may be read both across and below the surface, and he successfully combines the subject matter with a richly textured whole within the resonance of its symbolic content.

Family Unit, 1993

Family Unit, 1993 (For full analyses click on images)

Four of Bester’s works from 1993 are dedicated to victims: two record the sufferings and privations of ordinary South Africans, and two commemorate assassinated political leaders. Bester wants all of these subjects to be understood as casualties of a morally bankrupt system. Institutionalized poverty and systematic  degradation created an entire population of oppressed people.

These paintings, and the series of which they are part, reflect a change in the direction of Willie Bester’s art, from his early work, and may be said to represent scenes of life in the townships as illustrations of the effect of a generation of apartheid laws.  While these works appear to draw on this experience in order to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the oppressed people of South Africa, his early paintings consist of individual scenes of township life represented realistically with the several techniques at his disposal, these are symbolic in content and in pictorial structure.

This series from 1993 are composed through the combination of many different scenes and events which may or may not be realistic representations  in themselves, but focus around the principal theme. This pictorial language allows Bester a  more direct voice in the work, through which he express fragments of his own biography and his strong feelings about the issues he is addressing.

Beyond thematic coherence, surface unity is assured by the use of distinct color combinations and the related techniques of scattering anonymous stencil marks and dribbling pure colors throughout the length and breadth of the painting. An exploration of the depth of Willie Bester’s works involves the literal re-creation of perspective distances through the media of photography and illusionist painting, and the forward extension of these fictive spaces through the incorporation of three-dimensional objects on the surface.

Another strategy that Bester employs is to translate imagery from photographic sources – his own or newspaper reproductions – into the medium of paint. The people he represents in this manner, who are usually the principal forms of the painting, appear to gain significance in the process: shifting from an anecdotal reality that is defined in terms of time and space, they acquire a kind of symbolic status.

 These paintings celebrate the lives and achievements of their principal subjects. But the artist makes clear that these lives have been led under the most dehumanizing circumstances: apartheid South Africa systematically degraded its oppressed people and eliminated their leaders. Bester makes these points not simply by illustrating in his unique way the appalling conditions in which huge sections of the population are obliged to live, but also through the use of symbols.

The system of racial classification is referred to by images of both Pass books and, metaphorically, machine parts that spew out the rigid identities into which South Africa divided its population. The scattering of stencil numbers and lettering throughout the works suggests the arbitrary methods of classification and the reduction of human individuality to ciphers. Similarly, the tin cups that form such a consistent feature of Willie Bester’s iconography relate through their numbering to this sense of reduced humanity, but they extend this idea by evoking the Cup of Gethsemane. The necessary acceptance of suffering that is suggested by this reference is communicated in a slightly different way by the many musical instruments that Bester uses in his work. Beyond their several suggestions of social harmony and vitality, the guitars and other instruments are intended to illustrate the Afrikaans expression “Jy sal moet dans soos die musiek speel,” which translates roughly as “You have to dance as the music dictates.

Semekazi by Willie Bester

Migrant Worker, 1993

In Migrant Worker, Bester shows his concern for the conditions in which migrant labourers were forced to live in Apartheid South Africa, and that after years of work for a company, they received no pension and no prospects for a secure retirement, reflective of his personal experiences in a family whose father was a migrant labourer.

Analysis by Michael Godby and Sandra Klopper

Semekazi, the subject of Migrant Labourer, had retired from construction work but continued to live in the township of Crossroads in order to support his wife and four children in the Transkei. He had no house or even room of his own in Crossroads but simply rented a bed in a hostel for R6 a month. When he applied for a pension from the construction firm for which he had worked for many years, he was told that he was listed as dead and therefore was not eligible. To supplement his monthly state pension of R60.74 for himself and his family, Semekazi collected and sold scrap materials in the township. He was murdered by gangsters six months after Bester completed this commemoration of his life.

Migrant Labourer is primarily about the life of Semekazi, but it also records the life experiences of all migrant laborers. The central motif of the painting is Semekazi’s bed, which doubles as a prison for the man looking out from behind it. A lock and chain connect the bed to a Bible at the bottom right, a reference both to Semekazi’s religious convictions – he used to give R5 to his church every month – and to the fact that South Africa claimed to be run on Christian principles. The irony in this reference is underlined by the Bible’s proximity to a second book seen to the right of the bed: a replica of Semekazi’s Pass book. Fearing prosecution and police harassment, Semekazi continued to carry his Pass book even after the Pass laws were repealed in the late 1980s.

Semekazi by Willie Bester

To the left of the bed and above the Pass book are two panels representing Semekazi’s wife and four children, whom Semekazi would dearly have loved to have with him in Crossroads. The indications of rural life at the top of the composition are separated from these portrait figures by an undulating row of numbered cups. These cups refer both to the Agony in the Garden and to the fact that people are rendered anonymous through the systems of discrimination and abuse entrenched in apartheid. The roller and ink pad for fingerprinting serve to reinforce this idea.

Semekazi by Willie Bester

Throughout the composition, Bester makes reference to the two worlds that Semekazi used to inhabit: the rural and the urban. The rural world from which he came is symbolized through the inclusion of buck horns and sheep bones, among other things. The urban world in which he lived at the end of his life is represented in crowd scenes, the industrial landscape of chimneys and guns, and mechanical clamps. The clamps double as handcuffs. In motifs like these, Bester conflates images of industry with the idea of imprisonment. In his view, Semekazi was a captive of the industrial landscape because he never had the prospect of a secure retirement with his family in the Transkei.

Footnote: migrant labourer: a migrant labourer is a term given to people who live in another nearby country to the one they are employed in. They receive no financial benefits and have to live in hostels (usually single-sex) while they work. This prevents them from seeing their families for long periods of time. When the government created the homelands within South Africa, such as Swaziland and Bophuthatswana, they were legally living in another country. These homelands generally had no resources of their own, so the black men would have to cross the borders of the homelands and work in South Africa to earn money, as migrant labourers. Their benefits by law were thus reduced to a minimum.

Bester-Willie-BIKO

Tribute to Steve Biko, 1993

The focus of this work is anti-apartheid activist and hero Steve Biko, who since his death in police custody (12 September 1977), has been a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement. His death shortly after the Soweto uprisings served as a rallying point both internationally and locally for the anti-apartheid movement.  Throughout the Tribute to Steve Biko Bester placed images relating to his death.

On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock ( featured to the left of Biko) under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 .

Bester-Willie-BIKO roadblockHe was interrogated by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police including Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. This interrogation took place in the Police Room 619 The interrogation lasted twenty-two hours and included torture and beatings resulting in a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day.

Bester-Willie-BIKO chained

Bester-Willie-BIKO landrover

On 11 September 1977, police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked and restrained in manacles, and began the 1100 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities.

Bester-Willie-BIKO 1100

He was nearly dead owing to the previous injuries. He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September.

Bester-Willie-BIKO autopsy

The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and that he ultimately succumbed to a brain hemorrhage from the massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors.

Bester-Willie-BIKO woods

Then Donald Woods, a journalist, editor and close friend of Biko’s, along with Helen Zille, later leader of the Democratic Alliance political party, exposed the truth behind Biko’s death

Bester-Willie-BIKO target

The target with scattered numbers found in both Tribute to Steve Biko and Tribute to Chris Hani represents the Apartheid system’s propaganda that portrayed  the people’s leaders as villains; individual human beings, with all their complex experience and history, reduced to statistics for exploitation and disposal.

Bester-Willie-HANI

Tribute to Chris Hani, 1993

Tribute to Chris Hani (1993)

The central image in this work is an animated portrait of Chris Hani, the Secretary-General of the South African Communist Party, who was assassinated on Easter Saturday, 1993. Bester used photographs from newspapers to depict the circumstances of his death – on the left his murderer is shown, the Polish immigrant Janus Walusz, and on the right comrades grieving over his stricken body. Other media images in the top right hand corner show the six day mourning period that was declared in Hani’s honour, and the outbreak of violence and anger that Hani’s death unleashed. Bester has included his own feelings regarding Hani’s death by the burnt state of the wood of the central panel. However, the focus of the work is on commemorating Hani’s achievements in the battle for peace in South Africa.

The bicycle tire around the portrait of Hani represents a laurel wreath. Bester has successfully managed to bring the original meaning of the tire that has become debased through political abuse. By using the tire, Bester knew the form might very well evoke images of the fearful “necklacing” practice (see “necklacing”). However, he was determined to restore it to its original connotations of transport, labour, progress and union activity. The tire is inscribed with the valediction “Hamba Kahle” (Go Gently), and the fateful words that Hani uttered in a television broadcast a few days before he was killed: “I’ve lived with death for most of my life. Nobody wants to die. I want to live in a free South Africa and I’m prepared to lay down my life for it.” Because the wheel can have industrial connotations, it could also suggest Hani’s socialist beliefs, which are further indicated by the red colour of the sky behind his portrait and in the hammer-and-sickle emblems.

Hani’s desire to abandon the armed struggle and to fight the system through the organisation of labour is shown by the AK-47 overlaid by the dove, and by the industrial forms among military apparatus on the right side of the painting. In the bottom right-hand corner there is a figure of a miner, who symbolises this struggle. His torchlight in his helmet illuminates a bank note that represents gains in wage negotiations. The crosses in his goggles refer to the appalling accident record of South African mines. The guitar in the bottom centre of the work stands for a number of things: it shows social harmony and the regimentation of life under Apartheid. The yoke symbolises the continued state of subjugation experienced by the majority of South Africans.

In this work Bester is both celebrating Hani’s achievements and criticising the violence in South African society. The target on the left of the central image shows how this leader was created into an enemy of the state by government propaganda. The balaclava-clad killer and the “Top Secret Hit List” on the right represent the culmination of the campaign of vilification. The numbers scattered across the target indicates the process of dehumanising a person in this way. Individual human beings, with all their complex experience and history, are reduced by the system to statistics for exploitation and disposal. The central image of Chris Hani shows that he resisted this process through the powers of conviction and courage. This portrait shows Hani at the head of a march – one that was actually protesting his death – and appearing to represent the demands of the people to the viewer.

http://library.thinkquest.org/18799/wbes3.html

Cradock 4 (1993) (Click on image for full analysis)

For Those Left Behind, 2003

 

Trojan Horse II

Trojan Horse 3

The event that occurred on October 15th 1985, which came to be known as the “Trojan Horse” incident, took place in the coloured residential suburb of Athlone near Cape Town. Police forays into black areas were being met with strong resistance such as barricades of burning tires, stone-throwing and ‘traps’ dug into the road. The people simultaneously demanded “Troops out of the townships.” In an effort to punish stone-throwers, police hid in crates on a truck and had the truck driven up and down a busy thoroughfare in Athlone. Eventually people began throwing stones, and immediately the police burst out of their crates and opened fire. Moments later three boys lay dead by the side of the road. The youngest was Michael Miranda who was 11 years old, on his way to the shop when it happened. Bester also had a strong response to the “Trojan Horse” incident. He felt that the situation was “as low as you could get” since the tactics the police were using were ancient (as is the Trojan Horse story) and showed desperation on their part to convict the stone-throwers involved.

Bester created a series of three sculptures about the Trojan Horse Massacre with Trojan Horse III being the last in the series. Unlike Trojan Horse 1 and 2, which evoke the feel of African scrap metal toys as a reminder of the child victims, Trojan Horse III is made from parts of cars and motorcycles that Bester has transformed from scrap metal into a naturalistic animal. Characteristic of Bester’s works, the materials he uses are significant in themselves. The parts used to create the horses are in itself symbolic of the symbolism of the Theme. His particular visual vocabulary of forms, focus the attention on the transformation of flesh and blood into dehumanised cogs.

The ‘Trojan Horse 3’ is made of ‘violent’ material, including bombshells and machine guns, all related to the ‘Trojan Horse Incident’. The use of metal gives this sculpture an aggressive, industrial look.  The choice of material emphasizes the horrible rationality in which those policemen, in cold blood, performed this crime. First danger hides, but then it appears surprisingly and causes an explosion of loss. (Ref)

 Bester originally asked permission from the South African police to use decommissioned Kalashnikov rifles; to signify the smuggling of arms on the African Continent, but he was politely and firmly told that they were all to be melted down.

The life-size horse consists of a motorbike motor for its belly, to give it its general structure. There is a machine gun protruding from the top of the back, symbolising the guns that came out of the truck containing the police.

The drips refer to the people who were injured by this exercise. They also represent the dying mentality of Apartheid, with many of the white Afrikaners at the top of the country trying desperately to keep the system alive, as if they were drips to a dying person. A Bible is chained to the horse, and the tail is made of strips of rubber, which police used to whip people.

The horse appears aggressive and naked, revealing all its bones and raw muscle, as the Apartheid system is now being exposed for what it was.

Bester’s work charts the dramatic social and political developments in South Africa over the past 25 years. His account of social change is not idealistic. Instead, he continues to address issues of corruption and Government accountability in the new South Africa.

References

Art.anazana.com
http://art.anazana.com/en/arhiivs-13508/page-31055:12/page-42386:7/open-news:4766

Arttrob
http://www.artthrob.co.za/99aug/artbio.html
http://www.artthrob.co.za/05nov/reviews/34long.html
http://www.artthrob.co.za/01nov/reviews/goodman.html

Banard Gallery
http://www.barnardgallery.com/?m=4&s=2

Bowmann Sculpture
http://www.robertbowman.com/modern/artist/willie_bester

Contemporary Art Collection , Jean Pigozzi
http://www.caacart.com/pigozzi-artist.php?i=Bester-Willie&bio=en&m=37

Donvé Lee, Willie Bester: Art as a Weapon

Michael Godby and Sandra Klopper, Art of  Willie Bester, African Arts, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Winter, 1996), pp. 42-49+104

South African History Online
http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/willie-bester

South African Resistance Art
http://library.thinkquest.org/18799/time30.html

The South African Cape Corps in Defence of – DISA
http://www.disa.ukzn.ac.za/webpages/DC/Dav8n684.1681.5785.008.006.1984.9/Dav8n684.1681.5785.008.006.1984.9.pdf

The Presidency
http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/pebble.asp?relid=7833

VGallery
http://www.vgallery.co.za/34long/metalized.htm
http://www.vgallery.co.za/99article23/vzine.htm
http://www.vgallery.co.za/2005article6/vzine.htm

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Bester

Willie Bester
http://williebester.net/

Willie Bester in die Eikestad
http://storiesbyadel.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/issue-7-dn.pdf

‘It is as though our rulers stalk every page and haunt every picture: everything is obsessed by the oppressors and the trauma they have imposed.’ – Albie Sachs

Manfred Zylla

South African Historical Background

South African Resistance or Protest Art spans the period  from the 1976 Soweto uprising to the first democratic election in 1994.

http://africanactivist.msu.edu/image.php?objectid=32-131-198

Sharpeville massacre March 21 1960 – 60 killed, 180 wounded

The Sharpeville Massacre (March 21, 1960), signaled the start of armed resistance in South Africa, and prompted worldwide condemnation of South Africa’s Apartheid policies. It triggered a chain of events, from the banning of liberation organisations, the launch of the armed struggle, the internationalization of the South Africa’s Apartheid policies and the growing division between black and white South African’s.

sharpeville

Read More about the Sharpeville Massacre

The period between the The Sharpeville Massacre  and The Soweto Uprising (16 June 1976)  was a period of relative calm in the resistance movement in the wake of massive government repression in the 1960s under H. F. Verwoerd.

Interview with Steve Biko

Yet during this “silent decade,’ a new sense of resistance had been brewing. In 1969, black students, led by Steve Biko (among others), formed the South African Student’s Organization (SASO). Stressing black pride, self-reliance, and psychological liberation, the Black Consciousness Movement in the 1970s became an influential force in the townships, including Soweto. The workers’ strikes in Durban in 1973; the liberation of neighboring Angola and Mozambique in 1975; and increases in student enrollment in black schools, also led to the emergence of a new collective youth identity forged by common experiences and grievances

The State initially saw the Black Consciousness movement as a triumph of ethnicity which they thought would illustrate the success of separate development. However as the movement grew in threatening momentum and influence, they reacted violently, clamping down and enforcing censorship, stopping the flow of discourse that existed. Cultural venues were controlled and investigated. The Polly Steet Art Center was closed in 1960.

Sam Nhlengethwa, It left him cold, the death of Biko, 1990

The Soweto Uprising, followed by the death of Steve Biko in detention, 1977, was a huge turning point in South African history.  In spite of all the warning signs, the tensions and the obvious unrest preceding that climatic moment, few were prepared for the unleashing of the struggle that could no longer be contained. In lesser and greater ways, South African life was permanently transformed from that day forward.

There was Internationally, growing opposition against Apartheid, and Anti-Apartheid Movements began to campaign for boycotts and sanctions against South Africa. Cultural, and Sports Boycotts and Economic Sanctions were implemented against South Africa, and brought a growing awareness among normal South Africans of the global condemnation of apartheid.

Hector_pieterson

Antoinette Sithole and Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying and 12-year-old Hector Pieterson moments after he was shot by South African police during the Soweto Uprisings. It became a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government.

State of Emergency: The Apartheid government used Declarations of Emergency to crack down against opponents at times of heightened resistance. Police could detain anyone for reasons of public safety, without any appeal to the courts. Also, meetings and gatherings could be banned. The first State of Emergency was declared in 1960 right after the Sharpeville Massacre, when the African National Congress and Pan Africanist Congress also were declared illegal. In the wake of the 1976 student uprising, the government widened police powers of detention even without a State of Emergency.

FOK JOU

Soweto Classroom, 16 Junie 1976 *Jeremy Nell

By the mid-1980s, a popular uprising was underway, with militants calling for making black communities “ungovernable.” A State of Emergency was declared in July 1985 in 36 magisterial districts. Organizations as well as meetings could be banned, and thousands of people were detained. The Commissioner of Police could impose a blanket prohibition on media coverage of the Emergency, and names of people who had been detained could not be revealed.

bothas_emergency[1]

On June 12, 1986, just before the 10th anniversary of the student uprising that started in Soweto, a State of Emergency was declared throughout the country. The provisions of this State of Emergency were broader than any previous ones, but anti-apartheid mobilization continued. The government restricted political funerals, imposed curfews, and banned certain indoor gatherings. Television cameras were banned from “unrest areas,” preventing international as well as national coverage of the growing organizing and police repression. (Ref)

Border Wars: The South African Border War, commonly referred to as the Angolan Bush War in South Africa, was a conflict that took place from 1966 to 1989 in South-West Africa (now Namibia) and Angola between South Africa and its allied forces (mainly UNITA) on the one side and the Angolan government, South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), and their allies (mainly Cuba) on the other. It was closely linked with the Angolan Civil War and the Namibian War of Independence, as well as the Cold War. All White males was conscripted to fight in the wars or face imprisonment.

For White South Africans males of a certain generation, the Border conflicts of the 60s, 70s and 80s have left an indelible stain on their conscience; a brutal war, South Africa’s Vietnam.

“The hardest thing for me to come to terms with is that I fought on the wrong side. As a teenager I didn’t really see the choices but now on an emotional level, I feel deeply saddened. It was traumatic for everybody, regardless of which side they were on.” Paul Morris (Ref)

The conflict was characterised by a low-intensity terrorist style war escalating in intensity and spread over time. By the end of the conflict in 1987-88, large conventional pitched battles were fought between the SADF and UNITA on one side, and the FAPLA and CUBAN forces on the other; while the SADF – SWAPO skirmishes raged concurrently throughout the Operational Area. (Ref)

 The Growth of Resistance and Protest Art in South Africa

The Soweto Uprisings seemed to have touched the nerve of the nation and fear disappeared. Almost every artist produced overtly political work, taking up brush and paint as weapons against the oppressed. Many black and white artists fled the country. Among the artists that stayed, there were two groups; the involved and the detached.

The difference during the period lay in the heightened social consciousness and compassionate awareness of the human situation. The happening all around them reinforced the motivation of the committed artists and galvanized many of the formerly detached into overt expression of engagement.

The new direction in art was a development of the old principle governing African Art, which is that art must have a function in the community; a song is composed to be sung especially while walking; a scuplture serves as a chair, a house is decorated to enhance the village. The new twist was this; that the function could be one of bringing about change. – Sue Williamson (Ref)

Internationally during the 1970s and 1980s, there was a dawning anxiety about the fragility of planetary environment, an awareness about persisting injustices in the conduct of human affairs, and a growing disillusionment with the intense materialism of the prevailing system of market-orientated art which gave rise to protest art.

The variants of Protest Art are manifold. It ranges from blatantly confrontational pictorial imagery and subversive symbols scrawled on public surfaces, through allegorical depictions of distant but associated incidents and situations, to ambiguous figurations and personal mystical metaphors that camouflage their inner meanings in deceptive outer shells.

The use of public surfaces for the expression of popular opinion predates even the written language. But particular in a society in which mass gatherings are banned, the graffito slogan can be coupled with the painted image to communicate, publicly the otherwise muffled messages of solidarity and resistance. The modern urban landscape, already a collage of commercial signage, advertising and political publicity, presents many inviting surfaces for informal verbal or pictorial assault.

Often the product of so-called ‘guerrilla’ artists, working under cover of the night, graffiti, posters and defiant mural images have appeared in cities all around the world. During the 1970s  the practice was accorded a new kind of status, particularly in the USA.

http://www.justseeds.org/blog/2009/02/street_art_and_social_movement.html

Although a number of guerrilla artists attained a measure of fame – or notoriety, South African guerrilla artists had to remain anonymous under the strict Apartheid laws. But many of  the symbols and several of the methods of South African street art were reflected in works that made their way into exhibition galleries.

Resistance Art

Manfred Zylla – The Military Generals: Before and After

After the State of Emergency imposed in 1985, there was an explosion of graffiti in the form of scrawled political messages or much more graphic and designed stencils started covering the walls of the country. When most forms of public protest were banned, graffiti became a way for social movements to communicate to each other, the larger population, and the apartheid government.

http://cpj.org/blog/2010/10/in-south-africa-apartheid-haunts-media-celebration.php

Censorship The portrayal of contentious subject matter was a courageous venture in a society in which both official and informal censorship held sway. The official Publications Control Board exercised its most draconian power over theater  films and literature; but it could and did, impose itself on visual arts, whenever the specific exhibits were perceived as too discomforting or threatening to the existing order – sexual or political. Even without its active intervention, the mere existence of the PCB had an insidious effect on artists by creating a climate conducive to self-censorship.

The caution that had prevailed among  South African artists during  the sixties and early seventies was not totally discarded in the years of protest art, but the fear of censorship no longer regulated their responses; perceived now almost  as a badge of honour

Witch Hunt, by Norman Catherine, 1988.

Activist art seve to focus attention on society’s festering sores and to demonstrate solidarity with or among the dissidents. Visual Arts have traditionally adopted recognisable motif, as metaphors for the cause their focus. South African Art in the 1980s were no different. Exhibitions in the 1980s were loaded with ambiguos images of serpents, crocodiles, hyenas, truncheons, motor car tyres, armour plated objects and cannabalistic plants. These were fairly easy to read and recognised as icons of resistance.

By Jerm

By the late 1980s, South Africa was engulfed in a culture of violence, and the local art mirrored this. Yet, not all the art was inflammatory or apocalyptic in its themes; many artists recognised that satire can often be a more effective form of  protest than undiguised frontal attack.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12305154

In 1990 President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end apartheid, culminating in multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, which were won by the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela.

Examples of Artists and Art in This Theme

Willie Bester
Norman Catherine
William Kentridge
Helen Sebidi
Paul Stopforth
Sue Williamson
Gavin Younge
Manfred Zylla
Political murals, posters and T Shirts

Referances

About.Com African History
http://africanhistory.about.com/od/apartheid/a/SharpevilleMassacrePt1.htm

Esme Berman – Painting in South Africa, 1993, Southern Book Publishers

Clarity Films presents “Have You Heard From Johannesburg,”
http://vimeo.com/channels/444284

Contemporary African Art – Resistance Art
http://www.contemporary-african-art.com/resistance-art.html#sthash.eUojezpA.dpbs

Overcoming Apartheid
http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/sidebar.php?id=5
http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/multimedia.php?id=23

Leslie B. Shocknesse, The Art Scene in South Africa Since 1948
http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/evans/HIS135/Events/SouthAfricanArt/Art.html#Assignment

Louise Redvers, Breaking the silence on the Border War
http://mg.co.za/article/2012-03-26-breaking-the-silence-on-border-war

SA Bush War Site
https://sites.google.com/site/sabushwarsite/

Sharpeville Massacre
http://misspham.weebly.com/uploads/7/3/7/8/7378968/sharpeville_massacre.pdf

South African History
http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/june-16-soweto-youth-uprising

Think Quest
http://library.thinkquest.org/18799/index.html

Willie Bester Trojan Horse – Robert Bowman

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protest_art

Sue Williamson, Resistance Art in South Africa, 2004

“Throughout history, culture and art have always been the celebration of freedom under oppression.” – Author unknown

Resistance art describe those that use art as a way of showing their opposition to powerholders, which can be against an oppressive government, legislation or political power . The term has been used to define art that opposed such powers as the German Nazi party, and the Bolshevik Revolution. The term has also been applied to artists opposed to apartheid in South Africa. (Ref)

Protest art is a broad term that refers to creative works that are produced by activists and social movements. There are also contemporary and historical works and currents of thought that can be characterized in this way.

Russian Revolution – 1922 – Ian Simakov

Social movements produce such works as the signs, banners, posters, and other printed materials used to convey a particular cause or message. Often, such art is used as part of demonstrations or acts of civil disobedience. Protest art also includes performance, site-specific installations, graffiti and street art, and crosses the boundaries of art genres, media, and disciplines. Protest artists frequently bypass the art-world institutions and commercial gallery system in an attempt to reach a wider audience. (Ref)

International Historical Background of Resistance Art

Throughout history, Art has played an important role in documenting war, violence and social injustice. Creative freedom from government and church restraint, is a relatively new phenomenon. The 19th and 20th centuary were a time of revolutions and wars in many parts of the world, resulting in widespread images of resistance and reaction. Although human conflict is nothing new, it was during this time that art began to reflect the pain of the conflicts. Allegorical history paintings carried very explicit political messages, and a Romantic interest in madness shed new light on how war inflicted psychic as well as physical wounds. (Ref)

In France, a growing number of art dealers and middle class art consumers began to liberate artists from the restricted ideals and patronage of both church and state. The focus of artists shifted from heroic depictions of warriors and statesmen to images of the masses – ordinary people and the artists themselves.

Whereas some artists are interested in solving the problems of style and technique, others use style and techniques to express their social and political views. –  A. R. Nagori

Artists have used various techniques to express these views such as allegory, caricatures, satire, distortion and symbolism. In this way, they force the viewer to confront or experience an unpleasant socio-political reality which the viewer would prefer to avoid.

Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1784

The Oath is not merely an expression of a new style – Neo Classism. The Oath of the Horatii represents Jacques-Louis David’s individuality, an individuality that would lead him to contradict the French Académie in order to pursue his own understanding of the art of painting, an understanding that was based on past and modern ideologies and which represented a synthesis that would be soon adopted by supporters of the French Revolution. Perhaps David’s greatest intent in The Oath of the Horatii was to make a statement about individuality and human strength. He expresses his understanding of his study of painting in a manner that flies in the face of convention, but that is true to the ideals which he feels driven to embody. As a result, his characters speak boldly about choice and perseverance.  (Ref)

Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

In Liberty Leading the People, French painter Eugène Delacroix uses allegory commemorating July Revolution of 1830, which toppled Charles X of France and brought about Louis-Philippe’s ascension to the throne. The painting shows the attempt by Parisians to re-establish the Republic. The figure of the Republic, carrying the tricolor flag, urges people from different classes of society to follow her. Delacroix’s non-idealized depiction of the Republic as a dirty, half-naked woman created a scandal at the Salon of 1831. Louis-Philippe, recognizing the painting’s powerful message purchased it and hid it away from public view. The painting has been seen as a marker to the end of the Age of Enlightenment, as many scholars see the end of the French Revolution as the start of the romantic era. (Ref)

goya-executions-of-the-third-of-may-1808 2

Francisco de Goya’s The Third of May, 1808

In The Third of May, 1908, Francisco Goya, rather than depicting the glory of battles won as commemorative works had done for centuries, focused on the brutality of war. Goya has shifted our vantage so that we more directly face the victims while the faces of the Napoleonic guard are obscured. This successful strategy increases our sympathy on the one hand while reducing the soldiers individuality and perhaps even equating them with the guns that become their faces on the other. Goya multiplies the terror of the immediate ordeal by trailing the line of unfortunate captives into the distance, suggesting the that this action will by repeated throughout the night.

In Goya’s painting the figures are rendered in comparatively broad and rough strokes of the brush. Like the mature work of the Great Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velasquez whom Goya so much admired, there is in the Third of May… an effort to invigorate and humanize the frozen compositions of the previously dominant styles (the High Renaissance and Neo-Classicism respectively). This newly recovered aggressiveness is also expressed through light and color. Goya intensifies the painting’s emotional pitch by the interaction of sharp contrasts; light collides with expansive darks; white and yellow are sharp and vivid against the deep blacks, browns and reds.

Our eyes are drawn to the young man in white and yellow. In contrast to the pleading and terrified faces that surround him, he stands with arms up facing his enemy. While at first the figure’s raised arms might be read as a sort of active surrender, Goya is in fact mimicking Christ upon the cross. Note the stigmata that appears in the figure’s right hand. Goya has cast this massacre as a martyrdom. (Ref)

Edouard Manet – The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, 1867

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian is series of paintings by Édouard Manet from 1867 to 1869, depicting the execution by firing squad of Emperor Maximilian I of the short-lived Second Mexican Empire.

Goya’s Third of May inspired the basic compositional elements of Edourd Manet‘s Execution of Maximilian series. The horizontal placement of the figures, the direction of the firing squad, and the position of the victims on the left remain consistent throughout all five of Manet’s works. (Ref) However, unlike Goya’s paintings which clearly differentiates heroes and villains, the Manet paintings are more ambiguous. The officer on the far right, calmly inspecting his rifle and the apathetic spectators convey a detachment from the violence of the execution. It seems to be serving as a journalistic record, objectively recording the event. (Ref)

Max Beckmann, The Night, 1918-19

The Night was painted by Max Beckmann during 1918 and 1919. The painting was made during years of revolution and counter-revolution in the short-lived Weimar Republic.   It is an icon of the post-World War I movement, Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity.eckmann sees no purpose in the suffering he shows; there is no glory for anybody, no compensation, no gloating over justice accomplished-only enseless pain, and cruelty for its own sake. Beckmann blames human nature as such, and there seems to be no physical escape from this overwhelming self-accusation. Victims and aggressors alike are cornered. There is no exit. (Ref)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self-Portrait as a Soldier (1915)

This famous self-portrait shows Ernst Ludwig Kirchner after his nervous breakdown and subsequent dismissal from military service. Kirchner wears the uniform of the 75th artillery regiment. The fictive amputation stump on his right arm represents the trauma he experienced in the war. It also symbolizes the anxiety he felt about the possible negative effect of the war on his art: simply put, Kirchner feared that his failing mental health would prevent him from painting. Kirchner committed suicide in 1938, after the Nazis had branded his artwork “degenerate.” (Ref)

Käthe Kollwitz, The Volunteers, 1922

The feverish mass hysteria, which had gripped the nations at the outbreak of WWI, is portrayed through a group of young men following blindly the figure of Death. Kollwitz was internationally known for her etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs, but also her posters for leftist organizations and humanitarian leaflets contributed to her fame. (Ref)

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, 1937

Pablo Picasso‘s antiwar point of view is very clear in Guernica 1937. Using both abstraction and symbolism, Picasso presents a powerful image of of chaos and violence. The chaos unfolding seems to happen in closed quarters provoking an intense feeling of oppression. There is no way out of the nightmarish cityscape. The palette of black, white and grey evokes the look of  a newspaper, and emphasizes the documentary nature of the work, and suggests the mourning that occurs after a tragedy. (Ref)

http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2011/rivera/content/mural/warrior/detail.php#

Diego Rivera – Indian Warrior

Mexican muralism was the promotion of mural painting starting in the 1920s, generally with social and political messages as part of efforts to reunify the country under the post Mexican Revolution government. It was headed by “the big three” painters, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. From the 1920s to about 1970s a large number of murals with nationalistic, social and political messages were created on public buildings. (Ref)

 Mexican muralism represents a significant challenge to the commonly accepted view of the role and position of the artist in Western society. Western artists seem to be separated, hermetic, isolated, self expression, while Mexican muralists are in touch with the Mexican society and its social problems. The muralist played a central role in the cultural and social life of the country following the 1910-1917 nationalist revolution. These artists grew up during the period of ‘porfiricto’ named for the pre-Revolutionary society under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. This society was marked by enormous divisions of wealth, property, and power. (Ref)

These three artists may not have been able to alter the history of events in the Mexican Revolution, but they were successful in creating thought provoking and emotion stirring artwork. They were revolutionaries when it comes to the media of their work. The idea to paint on huge, public surfaces with political content was new. The major difference between the three was how hopeful and optimistic the messages in the paintings were. Rivera was very optimistic. He used bright colors, soft lines, and often showed the peasants and workers in a utopian setting. This hopeful out look may be related to the fact that he was out of the country during most of the revolution.Orozco and Siqueiros however, were major participants in political events of the revolution and experienced its horror first hand. The work of these two is usually gruesome and done in dark colors, with harsh lines. Their work shows the stark reality of the Revolution. Orozco’s depiction of the ideal differs from Rivera because he separates it from a historical context. (Ref)

Diego Rivers depicting the history of Mexico, National Palace or Palacio Nacional, Mexico City

 In 1934 Diego resumed work in the National Palace on an impressive mural called The History of Mexico. It focused on the struggle of Mexicans throughout history. He was able to skillfully fuse together many historical subjects without the use of divisions into frames or panels.

Part Of Diego Rivera’s Mural Depicting Mexico’s History 1929 – 1945

Diego Rivera

To the right of the “Huelga” poster, meaning strike, two rebels are shown hanging: one and agrarian rebel and one and communist. Three other agaristas are shown moments before they are to be shot. Their fearless expressions illustrated the determination of the revolutionaries to continue the fight despite the horrific consequences. In this major mural, The History of Mexico, Rivera combines the historic struggles of the oppressed and his hopes for the future history of Mexico.

Jose Clemente Orozco, Prometheus, 1930

Jose Clemente Orozco could be considered the most complex of the Mexican muralists. He was dedicated to depicting the truth and had a greater sense of realism that Diego Rivera. This is illustrated by his violent displays of conflict and chaos and misery. He realized the enormous gap between social ideals and social realities. He focused on showing personal suffering in a pessimistic, skeptical, yet sympathetic way. Prometheus was painted at Pomona College in California. This was his first mural in the United States. It illustrates Orozco’s belief that all the events of history are in a never ending circular sequence.

orozco_catharsis 1

Jose Clemente Orozco, Catharis, 1934

Catharsis shows the never ending cycle of Humanity’s self destruction and moral decay in a frightening manner. It explores the theme of man being obsessed by modern advances in technology and machinery. In front of a fiery background, humans are being “sucked into mechanical quicksand”. Theft is symbolized by an open safe. Murder and prostitution are also shown. (Ref)

David Alfaro Siquerios, The Proletarian Victim, 1933

David Alfaro Siquerios was a sophisticated political ideologist who was involved in the political conflicts of the Mexican Revolution serving as a protestor, demonstrator, and soldier. His radical political beliefs eventually got him expelled from Mexico. He spent many years in jail for his actions and this influenced his art greatly. Siquerios often painted the sufferings of prison life. His travels to Europe brought him in contact with the artwork of Goya. The themes and images of war in their works are very similar. Classical art, Italian Renaissance art, and Italian Futurism also influenced him greatly. Siquerios believed that “art must no longer be the expression of individual satisfaction (which) it is today, but should aim to become a fighting educative art for all.” (Ref)

The Proletarian Victim expresses the personal impact that social oppression has on the human. The ropes binding the body symbolize the oppressive government and upper class over the peasants. The title also shows his class-consciousness. (Ref)

David Alfaro Siquerios, Echo of a Scream, 1937

His most famous painting was Echo of a Scream. This piece was inspired by his experiences during active combat and his observations of suffering. By illustrating a baby, this piece emphasizes the internal suffering of the innocent victims of the Revolution. (Ref)

David Alfaro Siqueiros. The New Democracy. 1944-45

New Democracy depicts a woman who is trying to shatter the bonds of oppression and exploitation. She is shown carrying a torch of freedom to symbolize the new order. He includes strong visions of the future, similar to Rivera. Classical influence is shown in his approach to idealize human body form. Sometimes he exaggerates with expressive emotion, similar to Diego Rivera. (Ref)

References

Anneberg Learning, Art through Time, Conflict and Resistance
http://www.learner.org/courses/globalart/theme/12/transcripts/index.html
http://www.learner.org/courses/globalart/theme/12/

Art under dictatorship by Prof. A. R. Nagori

Alejandro Escalona, 75 Years of Picasso’s Guernica: An Inconvenient Masterpiece
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alejandro-escalona/75-years-of-picassos-guernica-_b_1538776.html

Becraft, Melvin E. Picasso’s Guernica – Images within Images 3rd Edition PDF download
http://community.novacaster.com/attach.pl/341/387/Images_within_images_3rd_Ed.pdf

David, The Oath of the Horatii: The French Revolution in Painting
http://www.unc.edu/~navin/David.html

Germany at War 1914 1918
http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_image.cfm?image_id=1671

Human in Progress
http://elizstephens.com/2011/08/29/diego-riveras-vision-realized-and-unrealized/

Khan’s Academy – Spanish Romanticism
http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/romanticism-in-spain.html

Kate Mason – History and Art of the Mexican Revolution
http://www.wfu.edu/history/StudentWork/fysprojects/kmason/index.htm

Manet and the Execution of Emperor Maximilian
http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2006/Manet/index.htm

Diego Rivera
http://www.diegorivera.org/

Weimer,Käthe Kollwitz
http://weimarart.blogspot.com/2010/07/kathe-kollwitz.html

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(painting)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_muralism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_of_the_Horatii
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protest_art

Scent in Art

Posted: April 3, 2013 in Art Enrichment

Perfumery Tools

Smell has this reputation of being somewhat different for each person. It’s not really true. Perfumery shows you that can’t be true, because if it were like that it wouldn’t be an art.” (Luca Turin)

In the history it is possible to trace olfactive stimuli inside art works and olfactory pathways were created by the hands of skilled gardeners, but in this chapter I want to show a collection of art works in which it was used the sense of smell with a digression from the beginning of the twentieth century to the early twenty-first century.

The representation of the perfume in art has seen his declaration in Futurist Manifesto: the praise of the dynamism of life in industrial society and machines. In the ”Manifesto of sounds, noises, smells” signed by Charles Carre in 1910, and Filippo Marinetti in 1912, they declared the full activation of perception: in the pictures there…

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