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Kemang Wa Lehulere: Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2017

2 years ago

Kemang Wa Lehulere, born in Cape Town, is Deutsche Bank’s new “Artist of the Year.” In spring of 2017, he will present his first institutional solo exhibition in Germany at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin.

Today Kemang Wa Lehulere lives between Johannesburg and Cape Town and is one of the most important representatives of a new generation of South African artists who work in all different kinds of genres and media in order to develop new artistic perspectives and narrative modes, as well as new forms of political action.

He realizes his performances, videos, installations, and chalk drawings, which are based on extensive research, as a solo artist whilst continuing with collaborative work. This includes projects with the exhibition platform and collective Center for Historical Reenactments which was established in 2010. Before that he cofounded and worked with the Cape Town based artist group Gugulective from 2006.

Wa Lehulere’s works often have a focus on black South African history, re-looking at and re-imagining the archive of narratives relating to black artists, musicians and authors in an attempt to prevent their work and lives from sinking into oblivion. Thus, his exhibition “History Will Break Your Heart”, that is currently touring South Africa, recalls artists such as Gladys Mgudlandlu and Ernest Mancoba. The latter is regarded as the first modern black South African artist who cofounded the artist group CoBrA in the 1940s and was subsequently written out of European art history.

Wa Lehulere’s drawings combine allusions to the apartheid era in his home country South Africa and found pictorial material, personal memories, and texts into a visual stream of consciousness. Particularly his large-scale chalk works, which he draws on walls coated with black chalkboard paint, seem like storyboards for films that were never shot or sketches of unrealized theater productions. Processes of overwriting and reinterpretation run through his oeuvre. Hence many of Wa Lehulere’s performances are akin to rehearsals or improvisations. At the same time, he develops a symbolic visual language that addresses historical and political events as well as formal issues. His work echoes how traces of racism and injustice are blurred and ignored, revealing the gap between individual biography and official historiography.

Kemang Wa Lehulere has taken part in numerous international group exhibitions, including the 8th Berlin Biennale (2014), the 2nd Triennial of the New Museum in New York (2012), and the 11th Biennale de Lyon (2011). Back in 2013-14, drawings by the artist from the Deutsche Bank Collection were shown at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle as part of the exhibition project The Circle Walked Casually. In 2015, he received the Standard Bank Young Artist for the visual arts. Starting on April 16, his art will be represented at the EVA International in Limerick City, Ireland, and as of May 3 at the 12th Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal.

After Wangechi Mutu, Yto Barrada, Roman Ondák, Imran Qureshi, Victor Man, Koki Tanaka, and Basim Magdy, Kemang Wa Lehulere is now Deutsche Bank’s 8th international “Artist of the Year.” The award is given on the recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council which consists of the renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Victoria Noorthoorn. The award goes to a contemporary artist who has created an artistically, as well as socially relevant, oeuvre, one integrating the media of paper and photography—the two main areas of focus of the Deutsche Bank Collection.

Carla Ingrasciotta

  • Kemang Wa Lehulere. Photo: Adam McConnachie Kemang Wa Lehulere. Photo: Adam McConnachie

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