A printmaker at heart, William Kentridge began screen-printing posters for trade unions, student protests, and theater companies as an undergraduate at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Since then, in a storied career, he made print works in etching, lithography, aquatint, sugar lift, drypoint, photogravure, and woodcuts. His latest solo show at Marian Goodman begins with work made in 1998 and extends to a new body of work begun this year, delving into ideas of migration and exodus, historiography, and memory.
Printmaking—from the prints of Francisco Goya to the protest signs of Black Lives Matter—may be the most political and democratic of media. A Jewish South African who lived through Apartheid, the strain of political justice has never left Kentridge’s work. Images of floods and refugees, often fractured, collaged, and scraped, proliferate: Refugees (You Will Find No Other Seas) (2018) [pictured] depicts a boatful of beleaguered figures on handmade paper upon a raw cotton ground. Even a still life of hyacinths does not escape a political dimension: “God’s opinion is unknown,” reads one illusionistic letter atop the paper, a quote from South African intellectual and activist Sol Plaatje. Other works reveal a Dadaist streak, as suggested by the absurd Self Portrait as a Coffee Pot (2021), or the cyborg-esque Telephone Woman (2000)—which might allude also to print as another vexed vehicle of communication.
William Kentridge, Refugees (You Will Find No Other Seas), 2018. Lift ground aquatint etching on handmade paper, mounted on raw cotton cloth; image: 64 1/2 x 93 3/4 inches; cloth: 66 7/8 x 95 5/8 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. Copyright: William Kentridge.