As the online bids for our Design Sale start pouring in, we present a quick and last look at some of the significant lots in this auction, along with Living Traditions, the concurrent online auction of folk and tribal art. Put together, they form an unusual and charming style of art and decor for the eclectic collector.
Eesha Patkar takes a look at one of South Africa’s foremost artists and filmmakers
WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – RETROSPECTIVE at Johannesburg Art Gallery (3 July – 23 October 2005), Exhibition Poster
William Kentridge, one of South Africa’s leading artists and authorities on the subject of apartheid, has made his way to StoryLTD. For the next few weeks, we are featuring prints and posters from his art shows around the world.
Our collection of posters shows Kentridge’s continued presence in his hometown of Johannesburg where he exhibited steadily at the Goodman Gallery, but internationally as well, at Annandale Galleries in Sydney, Australia, and K20 Grabbeplatz in Düsseldorf, Germany. These are, of course, mere hints of the entire breadth of Kentridge’s achievements.
Between the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, Kentridge started and developed a reputation as a charcoal artist and printmaker. In the ’90s, he produced the first of his many animated films—Monument (1990), Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old (1991), Felix in Exile (1994), to name a few—a series of nine films that he eventually exhibited together as the “9 Drawings for Projection.” You can find the poster for this exhibit here.
9 FILMS – WILLIAM KENTRIDGE 9 DRAWINGS FOR PROJECTION, Old Fort, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, 22 -24 March 2004, Exhibition Poster
Among others, we also have two posters that were once part of a limited edition triptych series. The posters themselves are designs for Kentridge’s six minute short film A Lifetime of Enthusiasm that was part of the installation “Telegrams from the Nose” at the Annandale Galleries in 2008. The third one remains elusive as of now, but those intent on possessing it and completing their collection can make a quest of it.
WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008.
WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008
Kentridge’s works were hardly ever standalone pieces: when he focused on a project, he created a cornucopia of art work that he abhorred to waste. It all became part of his narrative somehow, either in the original piece that he was designing it for, or a retrospective afterwards. For instance, the 2005 poster “Preparing the Flute” was designed for the exhibition celebrating Kentridge’s operatic production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute that opened earlier that year at the La Monnaie theatre in Brussels, Belgium.
WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – PREPARING THE FLUTE, The Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, South Africa, 4th June to 16th July, Exhibition Poster
Likewise, with this poster designed for the 16th Sydney Biennale in 2008, featuring one of Kentridge’s famous collaborative pieces “Telegrams from the Nose.” The exhibit at Cockatoo Island, during which he worked with composer Francois Sarhan, consisted of a multi-projection film titled I Am Not Me, The Horse Is Not Mine (2008) and referred to a future production of an opera that he directed for the Metropolitan Opera of New York at the time.
WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – TELEGRAMS FROM THE NOSE, 16th Biennale of Sydney, 2008, Exhibition Poster
The opera, which premiered in 2010, was a re-adaptation of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1930 opera The Nose, originally borrowed from the short story by the famous Nikolai Gogol.
I first read Gogol’s The Nose sometime in 2010 myself—in tandem with Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis—both stories evoking the feeling of absurd, a genre that was particularly relevant and heavily employed in literature, theatre and arts of early 20th century, post-war Europe. Of course, Gogol wrote The Nose much earlier in 1836, to be revived by Shostakovich a century later. There have been several reappropriations of the story over time, but it has never been more consistently experimented on and beautifully explored than in the works and art of Kentridge.
Kentridge, already well-known for his politically inflected work, sought to incorporate the absurdity of The Nose into a series of palimpsestic works of art that defied any clear medium. His charcoal drawings became stop-action animated films that turned into highly interactive multimedia installations. And practically everything that he worked on during 2007 and 2010 was gearing towards the grand pièce de résistance, the final opera.
Gogol wrote The Nose, like most of his short stories (The Overcoat), as a satirical device poking fun at the egotistical excesses of Russian politics during his time. In it, a barber named Ivan Yakovlevich finds a pale nose in the bread he’s about to eat for breakfast. It belongs to Kovalyov—“Major Kovalyov” as he pompously deigns himself—a member of the Municipal Committee. Afraid to be seen with a bureaucrat’s appendage, the barber throws it off the Isaac bridge in the Neva river below. Meanwhile, the Major has just woken up without his nose attached to his face, and proceeds to spend the rest of his day trying to find it and commandeering the local police to catch it for him.
Ludicrous in narrative, yet clever in form, Gogol transforms the nose as a metaphorical and synecdochical arc to puncture the flatulent grandiose of not just the Major, but his peers and superiors as well. The value of a socially acceptable and dignified appearance, given importance through sartorial mentions of uniforms, coats, and cloaks—or lack thereof, in case of the barber—is particularly striking. The Major’s appearance is marred (“flat as a pancake”) without his nose, leaving him impotent and unable to “snub his nose” at those he encounters daily. But I find the Indian idiom “naak kat gayi”—literary translated as “nose cut off”—far more apt here. To find one’s nose (figuratively) cut off, is to be humiliated, ashamed and beaten even. Which is exactly what happens to the Major: he hides, blusters in shame and doesn’t regain his confidence until his nose is returned to its rightful place. Of course, he fails to find any humility in the process and continues in his megalomaniac ways, reaffirming the story for the satire it truly is.
During his work on the opera, Kentridge saw parallels between the politics of Russian bureaucracy and South African socio-economic politics of his own homeland. He found the Absurd as a perfect vehicle for expressing and exploring this dynamic: “(t)he extraordinary nonsense hierarchy of apartheid in South Africa made one understand the absurd not as a peripheral mistake at the edge of a society, but at the central point of construction. So the absurd always, for me, is a species of realism rather than a species of joke or fun. And that’s why one can take the joke of The Nose very seriously.”
WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – WHAT WILL COME, The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, 10th November to 14th December 2007, Exhibition Poster
WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – K20, 27 March – 31 May, 2004, Exhibition Poster
Kentridge was a genius. Whether he was deconstructing three dimensional reality through mirrored cylinders in installations such as “What Will Come” at the Goodman gallery, or reflecting on identity and individual choices in a politically conflicted landscape as he did through his films at the K20 exhibit—at the heart of it was always the voice of an artist striving to inform, interrogate and possibly change the world.
Josheen Oberoi chats with Meera Sethi about identities, processes and her forthcoming projects
New York: Meera Sethi is a Toronto based artist of Indian origin. With a graphics design background and an artist’s curiosity. Meera’s art straddles many worlds; fine art and design, Indian and diaspora. Her work has been featured widely in publications like Vogue India, CNNgo and MTV Desi. Some of her works are now available on StoryLTD.
Her recent work has tackled complex questions about identity and migration with pictorially vivid imagery. She makes these questions accessible through her visual images in ways that allow us viewers to engage and celebrate them. As an admirer of her work, I was very happy to have an opportunity to learn more about her art. In our conversation below, Meera Sethi will trace the contours of her life as an artist and tell us how she creates her vibrant body of work.
Q: Meera, let’s start with the question of how your engagement with art began.
A: Although art was always my favourite subject growing up, I never planned to be an artist. I entered university interested in cultural studies, anti-colonial and feminist studies. I followed this through by completing a BFA in Art Theory and a Master’s in Interdisciplinary (Cultural) Studies. However, during my entire academic education, I was quietly working away as a self-taught graphic designer, accepting occasional freelance design projects.
Little did I realize at the time that it was the making of imagery, as opposed to its study, that would emerge as my passion. After graduate school, I went from working as an arts researcher, to being employed as a graphic designer, to eventually working full-time for myself as a freelance designer and now a visual artist. My life as a professional artist began unexpectedly after I spontaneously embarked on what was to become my first and most influential series – Firangi Rang Barangi – in the evenings after returning home from my 9-5 day job. What I saw surprised me: I had a natural inclination to combine colour with form.
Q: Where do you feel you are, as an artist, and what has brought you here?
Meera Sethi in the studio
A: It’s certainly been a journey. Now, when I look back at some of my earliest drawings and sketches, I see an interest in portraiture and depicting clothing. In fact, the only surviving artwork I have from when I was a child is a self-portrait done at age 5, in which I have attempted with much detail to convey the texture, colour and pattern of my plaid dress. When I rediscovered this drawing, I was shocked to see the similarity in my choice of subject 30 years on! Today, I find myself drawn to the cultural, political and spiritual lives of diasporic South Asians and the hybridity of our identities as expressed
Meera Sethi, Self-Portrait, Age 5
Q: That is an interesting point because your work appears to function at the intersections of art and design to a great extent. Could you tell us about your approach and process?
A: I tend to look at things through the lens of design. What I mean by this is that I look at work for its aesthetic appeal and function before I enter the deeper meaning it conveys. I tend to use this approach in the making of my own work where I am as much concerned with the beauty and the function as I am with the story it is telling. I think this comes from my long history as a graphic designer who never fully fit into the art world. Not to discredit the important conversations happening within artistic communities, but I would still rather pick up a Creative Review or Eye than an ArtReview or Frieze. At the same time, I make art, not design. My work is not solving a problem or responding to a client brief. There is of course sometimes a fine line between the two disciplines. I am most comfortable on this edge. My research for new projects increasingly involves a combination of reading popular and academic articles, looking at art, design and craft sources, and meditating.
“Intersections” in progress
Q: You have also worked with large scale formats like murals. Please tell us about the work.
A: In late 2013, I completed my first large-scale public outdoor mural. It is a massive 44 feet x 39 feet wall-painting called “Intersections” that commemorates the cultural, social and political intersections made by LGBTQ South Asian communities in Canada. It’s a giant celebration of our organizing and partying, our identities, diversity and presence. The mural itself references Rabari mirrorwork from Rajasthan as a symbol of the unifying power of incredibly diverse South Asian textile traditions.
“Intersections” in progress
Intersections, Church Street Mural
Q: Along with the large scale format, you actively work with prints and creating two different scales of the same visual images. Could you speak to that choice a little bit?
A: Much of my work is quite large in format, making the work difficult to transport and higher in cost. At the same time, the quality of line, colour and form in my work is quite even and sharp, so it translates well into a print medium. I like to make high quality, limited edition small-size prints available of some pieces as a matter of accessibility. In my mind, a simple but important intention is to have my work inspire the hearts and lives of others. To have my art seen by multiple people in daily life is one way to do this. Perhaps, indebted again to design, before making work, I often imagine it in someone’s home, where it makes a small but consistent impact on everyday life decisions by inviting a sense of beauty and joy.
Q: Tell us what comes next. Are you working on new projects?
A: I am in the process of working on three different projects. The most immediate is a new series of acrylic paintings on canvas called “On the Margins of the Divine” that look to Mughal miniature albums as a starting point. Next, is an international, collaborative performance art piece called “Unstitched” that takes a sari and creates a line of community and continuity among 108 people. And lastly, a two-part photography and mixed-media painting project called “Upping the Aunty” that celebrates our elders and their fabulousness!