Menzies Art Brands

34. William Kentridge Blog by Tim Abdallah


One of the best known artists in Australia is William Kentridge. In fact he is not Australian, but a South African who belongs to the international avante-garde. Although he was born and continues to live in South Africa, he works everywhere, and is nowadays continuously busy, well-known across Europe and America and has been so for some time. Since the 90s he has been a participant in events such as the Kassel Documenta, the SaoPaolo Biennale, and the Venice Biennale.

Kentridges unique, long-standing presence in Australia is mainly due the work of Bill and Anne Gregory, owners of the Annandale Galleries in Sydney.  The Gregorys have shown his work there since the 1990s, but he also confirmed his presence in this country through participation in events such as the Sydney Biennale in 2008, and then in 2012 with the wonderful show (curated by The San Francisco Museum of Art) held at Melbournes ACMI. This event presented the full range of Kentridges work, including paintings, drawings, prints,  sculptures, films, and poetry .

Kentridge is a political artist, and his work needs to be seen in the light of his lifetime engagement with what might politely be termed political imbalance. Another term might be oppression, however there is a sense that although e was a daily witness to the awfulness of Apartheid, he would like us to share his search for the fundamental nature of oppression, as a means of overcoming it. He is not strident in his message, and yet its unmistakably there and it is impossible to view anything he has done without doing so in political terms.

In Latopolis we see an Egyptian temple, rendered twice as a paired negative. The paired negative indicates that- in spite of the new politics, nothing has changed in South Africa. The temple represents authority, the duality of presenting it this way points to the ambiguity of authority, as a force for good as well as a force for bad.

Its not really doing any favours reducing Latopolis to a few lines such as these. Its rare for an artwork to make sense in isolation, and like most artists, Kentridges work will always be richer for seeing it in the context of the work he has exhibited around the world for more than 3 decades.

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