William Kentridge, not just black & white

William Kentridge is a South African draftsman, performer, and filmmaker. Best known for his animated drawings, the central focus of Kentridge’s oeuvre has been to examine the years before and after apartheid. The artist conflates his autobiography with that of fictionalized characters to relate his narratives, rendering his signature expressive, gestural drawings in black charcoal and ink. In his animations, a single drawing is retouched again and again to create the film stills, with each new image a palimpsest bearing signs of the previous drawing’s erasure.

Being raise a defender of the oppressed

As someone who is ethnically Jewish in South Africa, Kentridge has a unique position as a third-party observer. His parents were lawyers, famous for their defence of victims of apartheid. Kentridge developed an ability to remove himself somewhat from the atrocities committed under the later regimes. The basics of South Africa’s socio-political condition and history must be known to grasp his work fully, much the same as in the case Francisco Goya


No Art Degree needed

Yes, Kentridge does not have a degree in art. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and African Studies. He then did a diploma in Fine Arts from the Johannesburg Art Foundation.

Theater & Mime

He also studied mime and theatre at the L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. He originally hoped to become an actor, but he reflected later: “I was fortunate to discover at a theatre school that I was so bad an actor [… that] I was reduced to an artist, and I made my peace with it.”. 


In 1992, he began collaborating, as set designer, actor, and director of the Handspring Puppet Company. The Company creates multi-media pieces using puppets, live actors and animation. It performs plays like Woyzeck, Faust and King Ubu to reflect on colonialism, and the human struggle between the past, modernity and ethics.

Apartheid & Protest Art

Aspects of social injustice that have transpired over the years in South Africa have often become fodder for Kentridge’s pieces.

Animated movies

Between 1989 and 2003 Kentridge made a series of nine short films that he eventually gathered under the title 9 Drawings for Projection. In 1989, he began the first of those animated movies, Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris. The series runs through Monument (1990), Mine (1991), Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old (1991), Felix in Exile (1994), History of the Main Complaint (1996), Weighing and Wanting (1997), and Stereoscope (1999), up to Tide Table (2003) and Other Faces, 2011.


For the series, he used a technique that would become a feature of his work – successive charcoal drawings, always on the same sheet of paper, contrary to the traditional animation technique in which each movement is drawn on a separate sheet. In this way, Kentridge’s videos and films came to keep the traces of the previous drawings. His animations deal with political and social themes from a personal and, at times, an autobiographical point of view, since the author includes his self-portrait in many of his works.


The political content and unique techniques of Kentridge’s work have propelled him into the realm of South Africa’s top artists. Theatre production, Operas and even sculptures.

William Kentridge is alive and well

The artist continues to live and work in Johannesburg, South Africa. Kentridge’s works are held in the collections The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich, among others.

“I am interested in a political art, that is to say, an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain ending – an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check, and nihilism at bay.”

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