William Kentridge



William Kentridge, Whichever Page You Open, 2013. Drawing, India ink on Craggs Universal Technological Dictionary, 1826, 00-3/4 x 82-5/8 inches. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery. [1]


William Kentridge (B. 1955) was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is of Lithuanian-Jewish decent. Kentridge’s family were politically-engaged lawyers who were actively involved with the prominent civil rights cases and anti-apartheid causes. This reason could account for some of the political themes in his artworks which take the form of charcoal drawings, stop motion films and mixed media artworks.

In 1971, Kentridge entered the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied politics and African studies. During this time, he also directed, acted in, and designed posters for numerous plays, the first being Ubu Rex (1975). Kendridge embarked on a two-year study of painting and drawing at the Johannesburg Art Foundation in 1979, where he also taught printmaking for two years. From 1981 – 82 he studied mime and theatre at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq, Paris. Upon returning to Johannesburg, he worked as an art director on television and film productions, and in 1988 he cofounded the Free Filmmakers Co-operative in Johannesburg. [2, 3]

The artist lives and works in Johannesburg.



“There are three seperate things: themes or subject matter in my work; my South African background: my family background. The themes in my work do not really constitute its starting point, which is always the desire to draw” – William Kentridge [2] 




‘Felix in Exile’ (1994) 

Felix in Exile is Kentridge’s fifth film. It was made from forty drawings and is accompanied by music by Phillip Miller and Motsumi Makhene. It introduces a new character to the series: Nandi, an African woman, who appears at the beginning of the film making drawings of the landscape. She observes the land with surveyor’s instruments, watching African bodies, with bleeding wounds, which melt into the landscape. She is recording the evidence of violence and massacre that is part of South Africa’s recent history. Felix Teitelbaum, who features in Kentridge’s first and fourth films as the humane and loving alter-ego to the ruthless capitalist white South African psyche, appears here semi-naked and alone in a foreign hotel room, brooding over Nandi’s drawings of the damaged African landscape, which cover his suitcase and walls. Felix looks at himself in the mirror while shaving and Nandi appears to him. They are connected to one another, through the mirror, by a double-ended telescope and embrace, but Nandi is later shot and absorbed back into the ground like the bodies she was observing earlier. A flood of blue water in the hotel room, brought about by the process of painful remembering, symbolises tears of grief and loss and the Biblical flood which promises new life. Kentridge has commented: ‘Felix in Exile was made at the time just before the first general election in South Africa, and questioned the way in which the people who had died on the journey to this new dispensation would be remembered’. In this film Nandi’s drawing could be read as an attempt to construct a new national identity through the preservation, rather than erasure, of brutal and racist colonial memory.”[4]


‘Universal Archive’ series (2015) 



‘Lekkerbreek’, 2013. 


“Lekkerbreek, one of the largest works in the show, shows a sparse standing tree amid the scrublands of a South African game farm where verticality seems an achievement and the dense trunk cluster of branches testimony to inventive adaption in hard terrain. The pages below include bird illustrations from the Britannica World Language Dictionary that make a fitting extension of context reaching outward to the natural world that holds the tree and inward towards a self-conscious modern awareness of fabrication processes and recycled resources. A similar reflexivity anchors Nine Typewriters, where an archival array of writing machines, from old stand-up typewriters to a sleek portable, sit on top of pages from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Like every other image in the series, it speaks to a thought cluster of effort, alertness and intelligence, whether it is a stretching cat, an espresso coffee pot or a marching woman torn in thirds.” [5]


‘Universal Archive (Nine typewriters)’, 2013 [5] 


‘Universal Archive, Ref. 19’, 2012 [5] 


‘Universal Archive, Ref. 53’, 2012. [5]








William Kentridge: How we make sense of the world 




1. Research the history of apartheid in South Africa and write down some key points. To what extent is the tumultuous political climate of South Africa during the 20th century explored in Kentridge’s practice?  (Cultural Frame)

2. How does the work ‘Felix in Exile’ by Kentridge provide the audience with a glimpse into the artist’s emotional world? (Subjective Frame)

3. Discuss how Kentridge utilises a ‘hybrid medium’ in his art making practice. (Practice) 

4. What concerns in the world are reflected in the works of the artist? Refer to atlas two artworks. (Conceptual Framework) 








[1] http://www.artcritical.com/2013/10/21/william-kentridge-2/

[2] Cameron, D., & Bakargiev, C. (2003). William Kentridge (Reprinted. ed.). London: Phaidon.

[3] http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2010/williamkentridge/flash/#biography

[4] http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kentridge-felix-in-exile-t07479/text-summary

[5] http://canadianart.ca/reviews/backgrounds-and-foregrounds-william-kentridge/