Do not hesitate to go see the new William Kentridge exhibition in Cape Town

2019-08-28 20:50 - Hanlie Gouws
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william kentridge

The artist William Kentridge. (Supplied)

Charcoal drawings, movies, music, sculpture and creation so vast that it spans three floors of Zeitz MOCAA and the vast spaces of the Norval Foundation and still it feels like not enough for journey through more than 40 years of creations of arguably South Africa's most famous artist William Kentridge.

Why Should I Hesitate: Four Decades of Art Making 1975-2019 is as much of an introduction to the works of Kentridge to people unfamiliar or under-familiar with his body of social work, as it is a curated digest for followers. 

It also gives a glimpse of the process of art making as well as the art itself, giving a backstage look at how the creativity unfolds. "It is demystifying without removing the magic," Kentridge says. 

I could tell you, you should go see the exhibition because it is important. Or because the sheer abundance of this body of work (even though it is only a fraction of the work produced by the South African artist since 1975) will take you to a new reality for as long as you have time for. Or that the drawings, the moving pictures, the sounds, shadows, light and dark will never overpower but always enlighten. 

But I am not an art critic so I will only tell you not to hesitate.

Take a few quite hours and go immerse yourself, find your own experience of it. For me, the exhibition was more than just what Kentridge created; it was memories of when and where I had seen these the first time around, starting with the frenetic tripods from Ubu and the Truth Commission, my first encounter with Kentridge as a student in the 90s. 

william kentridge
A visitor walks past a work in the Zeitz MOCAA. (Hanlie Gouws)

This is the largest ever survey exhibition by Kentridge and is hosted simultaneously in two parts by the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) in the Silo District of the V&A Waterfront, which hosts the multi-media works; and at the Norval Foundation in Steenberg, which will present his sculptural works.

The exhibition opened on Sunday and will run until March 23.

william kentridge

A work of light and shadow at the Norval Foundation. (Hanlie Gouws)

*Although the title of the exhibition is open to interpretation according to the artist himself, it is said to have been taken from Kentridge's recent opera, The Head and the Load (2018), which explores some of the paradoxes of Africa’s involvement in the First World War.

This question was first posed by an African soldier who had a difficult choice: accept conscription - leaving behind the security of his home, to risk his life in a war of which he had little knowledge - or reject conscription and face certain persecution.

Read in the context of Kentridge’s studio practice, Why Should I Hesitate is, therefore, a question that stresses the importance of process over procedure or product. It is an attempt to draw out the artist’s work from the uncertainties of legend, so it can be understood within the context of our ever-changing cultural climate: an exercise that resists inertia but is necessarily framed by doubt.