The learned artist William Kentridge tackles colonialism with a quiet anger


His sense of dress is monochromatic as the charcoal drawings that are the foundation of his work. Every advertising photograph has it in the same combination of white button-down shirt, black trousers and black shoes. The rope attached to his pince-nez eyeglasses protrudes from his shirt pocket.

He wore the same uniform two days ago when he was on a stage in the cavernous Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern and presented his latest work at a public sold-out of over 200 people. The Head & the Load is partly installation, partly theater production. Presents a troupe of over 40 actors, dancers and musicians and commemorates the two million Africans dragged into the First World War by their colonial masters. For 90 spellcasters, the language, music and gestures of Africa and Europe have been turned into a requiem for people used as little more than pack animals and cannon fodder. The reviews were superb: "an electrifying collage of images and ideas", wrote a critic; "a nightmare masterpiece," said another.

Best known for his motion-motion videos evocative of charcoal drawings, Kentridge's upcoming show at the NSW Gallery will include the installation of eight movie screens I'm not I, the horse is not mine (2008), which is a spin-off of his production of Shostakovich's 1928 work The Nose . The video, presented at Cockatoo Island during the 16th Sydney Biennial in 2008, was recently donated to the gallery by Luca and Anita Belgiorno-Nettis. The Sydney show also includes works from Kentridge's collection and Naomi Milgrom's friend.

The artist would like to bring the The Head & the Load to Australia telling me as we settle into chairs in the back room of a cafe near the British Museum. "We need a lot of space and we hope that a large space is interested enough to make it happen, the piece is particularly interesting for places with colonial stories and complicated questions about people's recognition … being there." [19659005] Artist William Kentridge; his sense of dress is monochromatic like his charcoal drawings. ” srcset=”$zoom_1%2C$multiply_0.7441860465116279%2C$ratio_1.777778%2C$width_1032%2C$x_0%2C$y_136/t_crop_custom/t_sharpen%2Cq_auto%2Cf_auto/278f915fae89ff466ab18da2584ee73aa1fa43de” itemprop=”image”/>

Artist William Kentridge; his sense of dress is monochromatic like his charcoal drawings.

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It soon becomes clear Kentridge is silently erudite rather than voluble. His conversation is full of references to his passions: everything from the injustices of colonialism in Africa to the avant-garde of the early twentieth century (in particular Dadaism), to cinema and opera. Sometimes you have to run to keep up.

Recognizes that the expense and the diabolical logistics of conceiving and staging the gigantic The Head & the Load cost him a bit of sleep. But seeing an audience transported by the show makes it all it deserves. The scale is relative in each case. Two years ago he recorded a mural depicting the history of Rome in the lining of land, a half-kilometer stretch of the wall that runs along the Tiber river. For the opening ceremony he organized a procession consisting of two brass bands and hundreds of extras. Compared to this The Head & the Load is a "miniature".

I suggest that the new work is more distressing, more indignant than the human cost of colonialism in Africa than of previous pieces. "There's anger – there's always anger," he says quietly. "It concerns the impossibility of language, of non-communication which are central paradoxes of the colonial question for me, but it is also absolutely a record of loss and pain."

Given its place in the highest level of art it is easy to forget that the South African was a little late. His gifts were evident at a young age, but he spent his 20 years making drawings for theatrical and film productions. Art was a hobby, a pleasant distraction from a career yet to be chosen.

He inscribes a mural depicting the history of Rome in the earth.

As the son of two South African pre-distinguished lawyers – his late mother Felicia was also a leading activist and anti-apartheid activist – he considered following in the footsteps of his parents. But the call to the bar was soon suppressed by practical considerations. "There are many, many attributes of being a lawyer I do not have," he says. "Fidelity to the fact is one of these: if I had become an academic I would be the kind of academic who is ashamed to invent the raw material, I realized that I needed to be in a field where the invention and the Imagination is rewarded rather than leading to prison or rustication. "

The anger of his parents for the injustices of apartheid shaped him in other ways. "Every white in South Africa was a beneficiary of the system [apartheid] in terms of comfort of their life and ease of movement that was possible," he says. "Whether you were against or in favor of the regime, everyone was complicit: the sense of complicity of responsibility, of not being clean and the impossibility of finding a clean position, enters a lot in art." [19659002] He was 30 when he finally agreed to be an artist. His first child was born two years ago – he has three adult children – and a friend told him to "sink or swim with what you are doing, but stop complaining that you are about to do something different". The uncompromising council has struck home. "I said," Oh, OK, I'm an artist ".

International recognition took another 10 years, largely because his country was a pariah state cut off from the rest of the world. "During the first part of my career there was a cultural boycott of South Africa under apartheid, it was not a total boycott – I had little shows in London – but it did not make sense for South Africa to be part of it. of the art world ".

It was only when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and five years later democratic elections were held that curators and critics began to visit South Africa. Kentridge, then forty, was one of the first discoveries. He professes to be shocked by his "idiosyncratic, figurative, somewhat conservative" designs. "For many years I was amazed at the fact that the editors wanted my work in their exhibitions when it was so different from the other artwork they were showing," he says. "It took a long time to realize that maybe it was because of what they wanted – because it did not look like anything else."

These charcoal drawings remain at the center of his work. He turned them into animations from the end of the eighties, when he used a friend's 16 mm camera to record "the process of a design that was taking place". It was a revelation. By modifying a sketch, filming it and making further changes, he realized that he could make it "come to life".

The first experiments merged into a laborious stop-motion technique. Working alone in his studio with a camera and a sketch pinned to the wall, he draws, photographs and modifies about 750 images to make only eight minutes of animation. A typical film takes at least nine months to complete.

Drawing is and will always be the foundation of his art, he says. But he is an inveterate collaborator and can not resist the incursions in the theater, in the marionettes, in the sculptures, in the tapestries and in anything else that attracts his interest. He created a reputation as a director of innovative work by creating radical sets by Mozart The Magic Flute Shostakovich The Nose and Alban Berg Lulu to name only three. In fact, he will direct a production of Berg Wozzek for Opera Australia in January and February next year

The desire to leave his studio and work on bigger and more complex projects comes and goes, he says, comparing it with "a kind of sine wave". "After a project like this [ The Head & the Load] it would have been a pleasure to be in the studio alone for weeks to draw, but doing it for years would be terrifying."

It has been advised more than once to focus on one thing. After all, there are commercial advantages in presenting a simple story to the world. Draw, paint or make sculptures: do not try to do all three things. "It took me years to unlearn that advice," he says. "I gave up on drawing to become an actor and then I tried to become a director, eventually I found myself in the studio and I was reduced to being an artist … At a certain point I realized that the only hope for the drawings it was other forms brought to them.The drawings that have been made at the service of the theater or animation films have become more interesting than the drawings as well as drawings. "

Through all this he remained to live and work at Johannesburg despite the disadvantages of a city recognizes that it is "ugly" and often dangerous. "You live behind walls and sometimes you feel absurd," he says. "You can not walk the streets at night as you can in a European city."

So, again, it's home. And the largest city in South Africa provides him with the energy and exuberant talent that drives productions such as The Head & the Load . "When we make a performance and feel that special kind of joy and camaraderie, that unique connection with the world, this kind of justification justifies everything else."

William Kentridge: what we do not remember will be present at the NSW Art Gallery from September 8th to February 3rd.

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