The Arty Semite

The Ghosts of Kentridge Past

By Akin Ajayi

  • Print
  • Share Share
“Drawing for II Sole 24 Ore [World Walking],” by William Kentridge, 2007, Charcoal, gouache, pastel, and colored pencil on paper. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

At a remove, William Kentridge’s work can seem like a study in contradictions. His work is heavily influenced by the once repressive — now merely turbulent — politics of his native South Africa, but often features a lightness sometimes bordering on whimsy; his observations have a universality of tone, yet are underpinned by a distinctly personal, at times autobiographical twist. The works themselves — collages, charcoal drawings and animations that Kentridge himself has likened to “stone-age filmmaking” — are functional in form, yet touched with an unexpected gracefulness and charm.

Showing at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem through June 18, “Five Themes” explores the last two decades of Kentridge’s prolific output in five mediums — drawing, sculpture, animation, print and stage design. Kentridge is a restless artist; the exhibition demonstrates the breadth of his artistic scope. Even so, a theme does recur, one of preoccupation with the ghosts of the past and their influence on the present.

Physical evidence for this can be seen in his animations. They are created by repeated drawing in charcoal and erasure on a single sheet, each step recorded as a single frame in the final animated film. The landscapes have a monotonic consistency, and are almost monolithic in their solidity and presence, but the visible markings of his erasures and drawings hint at fluidity and gradual change, even at uncertainty. Nothing is entirely set in stone, they seem to suggest.

Perhaps the most familiar part of the exhibition is “Thick Time: Soho and Felix,” dedicated to two well known characters from Kentridge’s animation, Soho Eckstein and Felix Teitlebaum. Eckstein in particular, a rapacious businessman with a troubled conscience, is often interpreted as a challenging, even controversial character. But Kentridge’s work with his characters is subtle, and one sees both ambivalence and meaning.

In Eckstein one can see something of the contradictions of recent South African history; as Kentridge himself has observed, it would be impossible for him to champion the cause of equality of rights for all if he failed to acknowledge the social benefits that he enjoyed precisely because of their absence. For aesthetic and for philosophical reasons, this section serves as the best introduction to the complicated social matrix of Kentridge’s oeuvre.

Organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Norton Museum of Art in Florida, the exhibit was curated by Mark Rosenfeld of the Norton Museum with Kentridge’s cooperation. Also featured in the exhibition are “Occasion and Residual Hope: Ubu and the Procession”; “Sarastro and the Master’s Voice”; and “Learning from the Absurd.” The first revisits Ubu Rex, the 19th-century satire about a despotic ruler, within the context of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings that followed the end of apartheid. The latter two pieces are drawn from Kentridge’s work in theatre and opera, “Sarastro” evolving from Kentridge’s 2005 production of “The Magic Flute” for Belgium’s La Monnaie, and “Learning from the Absurd” relating to his staging of Shostakovich’s opera, “The Nose,” for the Metropolitan Opera last year.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Visual Art, Soho Eckstein, South Africa, Felix Teitlebaum, Israel Museum, Exhibits, Akin Ajayi

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.