Laureates 2012

2012 Present - Plastic Arts

William Kentridge

William Kentridge_photographed by Merwelene van der MerweWilliam Kentridge is an internationally renowned artist whose work deals with poignant political issues of his native South Africa.

He has shown the power of art to make a difference and has produced an extremely diversified body of work, composed of short animation films, drawings, prints, and large-scale installations.

Born in Johannesburg, the son of two anti-apartheid lawyers, William Kentridge studied Politics and African Studies at the University of Witwatersrand in the 70s, and then went on to study Mime and Theater at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris, working in various areas of theater, film and television. He co-founded the Junction Avenue Theater Company and closely collaborated with the Handspring Puppet Company, both in Johannesburg.

Kentridge's work draws on varied sources, including philosophy, literature, opera, theater and early cinema to create a complex universe where good and evil are complementary and inseparable forces. Though he moves back and forth between the mediums of film, drawing, theater and opera, his primary activity remains drawing – and he sometimes conceives his theater and film-based works as an expanded form of drawing.

In a now-signature technique, he photographs his charcoal drawings and paper collages over time, recording scenes as they evolve. Working without script, he uses stereoscopic viewers and creates optical illusions with anamorphic projection, endowing his drawing with a third dimension.

William Kentridge has spent much of his career intensively exploring themes that resonate with his own life experience as well as with political issues that most concern him. "I am interested in a political art," the artist has stated, "that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain endings." His vast body of works, comprising animated films, drawings, prints, theater models and productions, large-scale film installations, sculptures, and books – transmutes sobering political events into powerful poetic allegories. His work has evolved as his subject matter has departed from a specifically South African context to confront more general concerns of social injustice, revolutionary politics and the power of creative expression.

William Kentridge is this rarest of phenomena – a contemporary "Renaissance Man," whose masterly creativity in an overwhelming array of media forms a coherent body of works with a deeply humanistic focus. He is at once a supreme "individual" and a committed and engaged artist who constantly questions the impact of artistic practice on today's world.

In the past two years William Kentridge’s work has been seen at the Metropolitan Opera and MoMA in New York, Jeu de Paume and the Louvre in Paris, La Scala in Milan, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Albertina Museum in Vienna. In 2010, Kentridge received the Kyoto Prize in recognition of his contributions in the field of arts and philosophy. In 2011, he was elected as an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and awarded the degree of Doctor of Literature honoris causa by the University of London. In March and April this year, he will deliver the prestigious Norton lecture series at Harvard University.