For the better part of half a century, South Africa was an isolated nation, subject to global condemnation for the apartheid system. In the 1990s, as the country embraced democracy and reemerged on the world stage, the artist William Kentridge saw his works, which spoke to the horrors of racial segregation and the struggles of the post-apartheid period, appear in many international museums. Now, a quarter century on, he’s having perhaps his biggest moment yet.
The 67-year-old Johannesburg native is the subject of two major exhibitions this fall, one in the U.K. and one in the U.S. Both shows seek to illustrate the multidisciplinary aspect of his oeuvre—which spans charcoal drawings, film, theater, and more—while contextualizing his perspective as a white, Jewish South African whose parents worked as advocates for groups that were marginalized by apartheid. “Coming from South Africa, working through questions like, How was Jo’burg built, who built it, who benefitted, who was exploited?—from the vantage point of his culture and upbringing, Kentridge has an incredibly poignant story to tell,” says Ed Schad, curator at The Broad in Los Angeles, which hosts William Kentridge: In Praise of Shadows, a compendium of more than 130 work s (prints, films, sculptures, and more) that opens November 12.
Ahead of the Los Angeles show, on September 24 the Royal Academy of Arts in London launches its own immersive retrospective. Among the highlights are early charcoal drawings from the 1980s; Ubu Tells the Truth, a 1997 animated film about the brutality of apartheid; Black Box/Chambre Noire, a 2005 piece that uses puppets and projection to address the 1904 massacre of the Herero people in Namibia; and a new 19-foot, handwoven tapestry created in collaboration with the Stephens Tapestry Studio.
“The exhibition is designed to take the visitor on a journey through a sequence of different works that illustrate Kentridge’s vivid imagination and creative processes,” says Royal Academy of Arts chief curator Adrian Locke.
In the same spirit, The Broad is partnering with Marian Goodman Projects and LA’s REDCAT theater to stage the international premier of Kentridge’s Houseboy, a theatrical piece that explores trauma and post-colonial identity in Africa. South Africa maybe 10,000 miles from Southern California, but American audiences may find the performance quite resonant, especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The stories [in the U.S. and South Africa] are not the same, but they rhyme and have important intersection points,” Schad says. “Though they are incredibly different cultures, they share an evolving story that works toward social justice.”