Three SA artists get green light

2012-05-19 18:05

William Kentridge, Kudzanai Chiurai and Zanele Muholi will take part in the world’s most illustrious exhibition

It was a week of highs and lows for three local artists who were busy packing up and shipping off their work to a quiet German town.

It is in the town of Kassel that one of the world’s most illustrious art exhibitions is held every five years.

Only about 100 leading international artists have been invited to show on the exhibition called dOCUMENTA 13 – and they include South Africa’s William Kentridge and Zanele Muholi, and Zimbabwe-born, South Africa-based Kudzanai Chiurai.

“It’s the big one, the largest curated show of new works where nothing is for sale. It aims to display the current state of thinking in art,” said Kentridge, South Africa’s most celebrated – and expensive – living artist, when City Press visited his Houghton offices this week.

Despite being the only South African artist ever invited to dOCUMENTA three times – he also showed in 1997 and 2002 – he says the show is so important that “you still lie awake at 4am thinking I could’ve done it differently”.

For his epic installation The Refusal of Time, Kentridge has selected a rough old storeroom at a Kassel railway station where he will build “an opera for spoken voice” that is a collaboration between himself, a composer and a scientist.

With five projectors simultaneously showing films, and a series of eight sculptural megaphones projecting voices, his work is about “synchronicity, science and theories of time”.

Last Sunday, Kentridge did a test of the piece at his downtown studio before packing up the work this week to ship it.

He says that his first showing at Kassel brought with it so much international exposure that it changed his life. “I hope it’ll be the same for Zanele and Kudzi this year.”

But despite her joy at being selected, Muholi this week said, “I’d trade dOCUMENTA to get back my work that was stolen”.

The photographer’s apartment was broken into a month ago and thieves stole 20 external hard drives, laptops and cameras containing her documentation of four years of lesbian and transgender life in Southern Africa.

The stolen work includes the footage of what was to be a new documentary film on the funerals of murdered lesbians.

Muholi – who shot to national fame when then arts minister Lulu Xingwana walked out of an exhibition of women’s art in protest at her photos of near-naked women embracing – is worried that she was targeted because of her politics, but can’t be sure.

She says she is confused about why only her work was taken and not her partner’s hard drives, nor the TV, DVD player or household electronic items.

Her dOCUMENTA work, which was already in production and was saved, is a new series of her astonishing portraits – a wall of 60 large-scale lesbian and transgender subjects from several African countries.

“For me it’s not Zanele who’s going to be at dOCUMENTA for the first time, it’s black lesbians and trans men from Africa who are going to be there. They are existing and resisting. The more visible we are, the more we are recognised,” she says.

A visit to Chiurai’s downtown Joburg loft apartment this week revealed a searing series of work that taps into the artist’s spiritual journey – triggered by a visit to healer Credo Mutwa – and addresses issues of mankind’s balance with nature.

Moving away from his fashionable, pop political photos of dictators, Chiurai has produced three dark charcoal drawings, a painting, two videos and two sculptures, which will be set up in Kassel as “an altar to creation”.

Ghostly spirit guides, earth mothers, sacrificial objects and serpents populate his mythic new works.

One remarkable piece is a sculpture of his face embedded in a log with five pangas piercing the wood.

“It’s about the tree of life,” says the soft-spoken provocateur. “We’ve severed our ancient connection with nature.”

Chiurai’s gallery can’t reveal the names of the collectors and institutions, but there have been several offers to buy the work after it was shown in Germany.

dOCUMENTA 13 opens on June 9.

By the time it closes on September 16 it’s quite likely that he and Muholi will be poised to become the Kentridges of tomorrow.

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