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 – 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

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.

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

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

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 Decemver 2007, Exhibition Poster

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

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.

Juggling Jobs, Midnight Inspiration and the Berlin LitFest

Sunandini Banerjee of Seagull Books in a candid conversation with Elisabetta Marabotto

Book illustration isn’t easy—it requires a thorough understanding of the work and author’s style, and a tricky balance of enticing the reader and conveying the message. The artwork should complement the author’s tone, and the experience of reading and viewing should leave the reader satisfied. For Kolkata based Sunandini Banerjee, this balancing act seems to come quite effortlessly. As Senior Editor and Senior Graphic Designer at the renowned Seagull Books, she has over a decade of skill (and talent) backing her up. She joined Seagull after completing her Masters in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, in 2000, and soon delved into illustration. Anyone familiar with French author Diane Meur’s “In Dreams” (2013), South African writer Ivan Vladislavić’s “The Loss Library” (2012), and Austrian novelist, poet and playwright Thomas Bernhard’s “Victor Halfwit” (2011), would be acquainted with her digital collages. She now juggles adeptly between editing, translating, designing covers, and illustrating.

Cats Everywhere 01”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Second from a Limited Edition of Seven

Cats Everywhere 01”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Second from a Limited Edition of Seven

A limited edition of collages from Seagull Books’ annual catalogue is part of the Thieving Magpie collection on StoryLTD. I interviewed her on her foray into illustration, her work, and her source of inspiration—a much-dreaded question for many artists and writers—which Sunandini tackled with poise:

Me: Coming from a literature background, how did you get into illustration?

Sunandini: I think my literature background was absolutely essential by way of preparing me for my foray into design/collage/illustration. The pictures in my head are intimately linked to both the words on the page I am reading and to the words in my head from other books I have read. Memories, stories, echoes of other words help me think of images, pictures and colours, all of which then come together in a collage. The words are the inspiration, and in this my degree in literature helped for one of the most important things I was taught during my college and university days was to not only read the words that were being written but to also hear the words that were being left out.

“Calcutta Notebook”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Third from a Limited Edition of Seven.

“Calcutta Notebook”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Third from a Limited Edition of Seven.

Me: How do you balance your several jobs? Does one take over the other at times?

Sunandini: With a lot of coffee, and with an incredible amount of support and good humour from my colleagues. Yes, sometimes being an editor and a graphic designer for a small publishing house can be quite a challenge. But this is the only job I know (I’ve never had another) and this is the only way I know how to work—juggling, flowing from one to another, fighting down panic on some days and being infinitely zen on some others. Sometimes I edit more than I design, sometimes the other way around. Depending on the deadlines, sometimes one does take over the other. Sometimes, one also affords a certain relief from the other.

Me: Where do you find your source of inspiration?

Sunandini: In the books I read, in the people I meet, in the music I listen to, in the films I watch, in nature, in the flower market, in the saree shop, at the bangle-seller’s, in an online shoe store, in comics, in conversation, in the middle of the night, in a plate of chicken biriyani . . . in life, actually. It’s all around me. It’s hard to switch it off sometimes.

“Morning”, Digital Archive on Paper. Sixth from a Limited Edition of Seven

“Morning”, Digital Archive on Paper. Sixth from a Limited Edition of Seven

Me: Do you create artworks apart from book illustrations?

Sunandini: I’d love to but no. I’m still enjoying the interacting of word and picture. Perhaps some day my pictures may break free of the word. Who knows?

Me: Being both an editor and illustrator, do you think words are more powerful than images?

Sunandini: Not at all. A well-written novel can move you just as much as a beautiful collage.

Me: What is your next project?

Sunandini: Books, books and more books. And designing posters for the Berlin LitFest in September 2014.

Harsha Dehejia’s New Book on Rasikapriya Paintings

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart recommends Dehejia’s latest book Rasikapriya

Rasikapriya, H. Dehejia

Rasikapriya, H. Dehejia. Image Credit: http://www.dkprintworld.com/pr
oduct-detail.php?pid=1280857190

London: Harsha Dehejia, a practicing physician and well known scholar of ancient Indian culture and Hindu aesthetics who teaches at Carleton University in Canada, recently published his latest work: Rasikapriya: Ritikavya of Keshavdas in Ateliers of Love. This book brings together, for the first time, the full translation of the text in English and includes more than 470 illustrations of paintings related to it.

The rasikapriya is one of the main texts of mannered poetry, or ritikavya, which was composed by Keshavdas during the 17th century. Keshavdas was the court poet of Raja Indrajit of Orchha in Bundelkhand. The poet created short verses dedicated to and inspired by love, to which musicians and dancers at the court would respond in their own artistic ways. In addition, many artists produced beautiful miniature paintings to illustrate his words, which now enjoy pride of place in private and museum collections worldwide.

Some of Dehejia’s previous publications include The Advaita of Art, Parvatidarpana, Despair and Modernity, Leaves of the Pipal Tree, Parvati Goddess of LoveThe Lotus And The Flute: Romantic Moments in Poetry and Painting, Celebrating Krishna: Sensuous Images and Sacred Words, and A Celebration Of Love: The Romantic Heroine in the Indian Arts.

Like the rest of these books, Rasikapriya is definitely a ‘must read’, both for its literary and artistic value.

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