Looking back at some of the major events of 2013, one of the last and most widely covered stories was the death of South African leader, activist, and anti- apartheid revolutionary (among many other of his earned titles) Nelson Mandela. The man transcended any of these individual roles to become an icon for equality the world over (much like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to name the most obvious). Though the systematized segregation of South Africa under apartheid was brought to an end in 1990, the legacy of separation can be felt in not only the continued inequalities that divide white and black South Africans but also in the memories of those who lived under it.
Shadows of Apartheid
A few years back, I stumbled into the Museum of Modern Art and happened to wander into the William Kentridge retrospective – Five Themes. Kentridge, a South African intermedia artist from Johannesburg devoted much of the subject of his work to this period in history. Both of his parents were active in the anti-apartheid movement and despite leaving South Africa for a period of his young adult life, Kentridge returned in the early 80s and continued his career as an artist. Kentridge believed here his work could flourish despite the cultural boycott which discouraged other countries to perform or exhibit their work in South Africa until apartheid was abolished.
Combining his poetic and often somber charcoal drawings, animated to create short films, alongside video installations, paper collage, shadow puppets, and even operas Kentridge has created an, at times humorous and even absurd, but utterly poignant reflection of both political and personal suffering. Through the creative lens, artists like Kentridge straddle the line between social commentary, historical narrative, and personal story-telling. And in memory of Mandela, his artwork is a living document of one white South African man’s vision of man’s ongoing struggle.
If you are in New York, check out Kentridge’s latest exhibition, The Refusal of Time, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 11, 2014.