Ubu Tells the Truth
Portfolio of eight etchings
Hardground, softground, aquatint, drypoint and engraving on paper
2001-5-1, museum purchase
This suite of 8 etchings depicts the notorious despot Ubu Roi, created by avant garde playwright Alfred Jarry in 1896. In Jarry's farce, Père Ubu--a mediocre, middle level official--is urged by his wife to murder Poland's royal family to become king himself. His is a reign of terror and corruption, and his character comes to personify all that is base, cruel and stupid in the world.
Originally designed for marionettes, Jarry's farce caused an uproar in Paris and helped shape the progress of avant-garde theater in the 20th century. In the late 1990s, Kentridge was invited to participate in an exhibition entitled "Ubu + 100". He produced a whole series of narratives about the character, fitting the iconic villain into a South African context. In these etchings, Kentridge splits the Ubu character in two (a similar format to his ongoing narrative feud between Felix and Soho in his other works), suggesting with the different forms, a rift between the public and private self. The absurd but devastating despot is pictured in chalk white outline, wielding his sword and pontificating through a megaphone, while the nude figure is shown trapped within, subsumed by his outer persona but constantly trying to rid or cleanse himself of his public actions.
b. 1955, South Africa
William Kentridge received a degree in political science and African studies,
which informs his work as an artist. Performance also plays a central
role in his workhe founded a theater company, studied mime and theater
in Paris and, from 1982 to 1984, was art director for television series
and feature films. Through his distinctive charcoal drawings, animated
films and performances, Kentridge creates short lyrical narratives and
commentary on the political oppression and industrial exploitation of
South African people and landscapes.
In 1989 Kentridge began making short animated films by photographing his
charcoal drawings with a video camera and altering them in minute ways
to move the story forward. The drawing and erasure of charcoal lines conjures
an atmosphere of selective historical memory. Through a vast range of
creative media, Kentridge constructs moral allegories out of lines and
erasure to explore themes of love and betrayal, oppression and violence,
death and regeneration.
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