What charcoal has to do with democracy, equality and the cultural necessity for absurdity.
South African artist William Kentridge is known for his unique animation technique and the subtle yet powerful political undercurrents of his work. Most famous for using only charcoal and a hint of blue or red pastel to create mesmerizing near-expressionist animations, his artwork comments on the apartheid not through the tired visual metaphors for black oppression and white extravagance but, rather, through complex and philosophical reflections on the duality of man.
This month, PBS’s ART:21 premiered William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible — a fascinating documentary about the artist’s creative process, offering a rare glimpse of the genius behind the charcoal drawings, animations, video installations, shadow plays, video installations, mechanical puppets, sculptures, operas, tapestries and live performance pieces that have made him one of today’s most exciting and diverse contemporary artists.
The film is available in 10 parts on the PBS website and features exclusive interviews with Kentridge in his studio, discussing the techniques and philosophy behind his work, his personal history as a white South African of Jewish descent, and his experiments with machines that use the mechanism of vision as a metaphor for our agency to make sense of the world.
[Absurdity] is in fact an accurate and a productive way of understanding the world. Why should we be interested in a clearly impossible story? Because, as Gogol says, in fact the impossible is what happens all the time.” ~ William Kentridge
Also available is a fantastic free 32-page educators’ guide, discussing Kentridge’s work in a broader cultural and political context.
For more on William Kentridge and his astounding work, we highly recommend William Kentridge: Trace. Prints from The Museum of Modern Art, the gorgeous companion book to MoMA’s recent Five Themes exhibition on Kentridge.