William Kentridge: Tapestries
Berlin, 10178, Germany
Saturday, February 7, 2015–Friday, April 24, 2015
Opening Reception: Friday, February 6, 2015, 7 p.m.–9 p.m.
For the first time in Berlin, Kewenig is showing a selection of tapestries and collages by William Kentridge, born in 1955 in Johannesburg. William Kentridge came to remarkable global renown first of all through his fascinating stage-designing activity, secondly for a large graphics oeuvre that he animates in film sequences, the “drawings for projection”, and thirdly for space-filling sculptural installations such as at the last documenta 13.
Since 2001 William Kentridge has created large tapestries for which individual collages and drawings served as models for the weaving. A selection of tapestries from the Porter Series (2001) will be supplemented in the exhibition at Kewenig with further tapestries, including a motif from the Winterreise (Winter Journey, 2013). To the twenty-four songs from Franz Schubert’s Winterreise, William Kentridge has drawn twenty-four animation films that have been shown in co-operation with various theatres recently in Aix-en-Provence, Hanover, Vienna, Amsterdam, New York and Lille. Apart from the tapestries, the exhibition shows a few of the artist’s paper works which represent independent works even though they sometimes served as models for the tapestries.
For the collated models oft he tapestries, Kentridge glues fragments of torn paper on maps and book-pages that he takes mainly from antique atlases from the nineteenth century. The figures coming about in this way, for instance, the Porter Series, seem like paper cutouts. They are nomads, refugees or adventurers carrying tools, furniture or instruments, often from colonial times, which blur with the dark silhouettes of their bodies. Kentridge draws over the collages with lines of coloured pastel crayons resembling geological or meteorological fine details – wind movements, water-lines or degrees of latitude – thus putting the figures again into relation with the background indicated in the title toward which they move: the maps of a period of imperialism in which the expansion of European territories was at its greatest.
The Maguerite Stephens Tapestry Studio established in 1963 transforms the multilayered paper works through an elaborate process of handicraft into large tapestries. Located in Diepsloot, a suburb of Johannesburg, Stephens employs a team of local weavers, cotton spinners and dyers who work with vertical looms, processing mohair wool from Swaziland, silk, as well as acrylic and polyester fibres. In Kentridge’s work process, such as tearing paper or the gestural stroke of the crayon, there is not only space for contingency, but also for the special qualities of the material he is using. For instance, by weaving in the striking torn edges of the paper of the model into the formal language of the tapestry, the secondary creative process of weaving catches the material aesthetics of the paper model in the medium of tapestry which, in turn, is inscribed in a centuries-old, intercultural tradition. In the handicraft perfection of the weaving process, that goes back to French weaving techniques of the seventeenth century, the paper works find a complement and an ennoblement.
Kentridge was born in Johannesburg in 1955, seven years after apartheid attained status as a legally anchored policy. He grew up in a privileged liberal home within a society marked by brutality. His preoccupation with apartheid and South Africa’s post-apartheid era is a direct consequence of the political commitment of his family which has been active for several generations in political and legal matters for the anti-apartheid movement. The Lithuanian- Jewish origins of the family that emigrated to South Africa make questions regarding postcolonial guilt, complicity and indirect responsibility into themes in Kentridge’s immediate milieu, along with his personal identification with an ambivalent role between the cultures of Europe and Africa. Hence Kentridge’s work is uniquely personal, bringing simultaneously universal aspects of South African as well as Western culture of the present to expression: the contradictions of a sensitive point in time at which Western and post-colonial reality, in the wake of globalization, have to find a shared dynamic that neither negates history, nor judges, nor tries to close it off.
Kentridge studied in South Africa and Europe. In 1976 he completed a degree in politics and African studies at the Witwatersrand University. From 1976 to 1978 he studied at the Art Foundation in Johannesburg and in the 1980s at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris. In 1993 and 2005, William Kentridge was represented with films at the Venice Biennale. In 1997, 2002 and 2012 he took part in the documenta. A large retrospective of his work was brought together in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 and was subsequently shown in other Latin American cities. As one of the most influential contemporary artists, he has exhibited at the most important international museums, including the MoMA in New York (2010) and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and is also represented in renowned international collections.
In 2012 Kentridge presented the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University and was elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in fine arts by Yale University. In December 2014 the artist was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cape Town. Until February 2015 a comprehensive exhibition of his tapestries is on show at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg.