Article written

  • on 19.07.2015
  • at 12:26 PM
  • by Naomi Cohen

Kemang Wa Lehulere: History will break your heart 0

There still is the demand for black artists to exoticize themselves. The same struggle that Ernest Mancoba was having is still around and oftentimes one does not have to be told to self-exoticize; the mechanisms in which people are shaped into that kind of direction is very sophisticated, but that’s the nature of power itself. I’m very conscious of it. It’s also about refusing the spectacle.” 
-Wa Lehulere

Steel structures pulled from worn-out school desks zig-zag across the floor, propping up inverted gumboots with gold soles.  Identical busts are placed next to each structure, loosely refereeing to the deeply flawed education system and the Marikana Massacre. The installation is surrounded by paintings from South African art giants Gladys Mgudlandlu and Ernest Mancoba; as well as chalk drawings by his aunt, Sophie Wa Lehulere and a film that documents an ongoing project in Gugulethu.

History will Break your Heart is visual artist Kemang Wa Lehulere’s, latest exhibition. Composed of installations, drawings, video, sculpture and performance, the exhibition is a fractured, layered and deeply personal narrative that recalls the past in order to rethink the present. Wa Lehulere was awarded the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award for 2015.

“I feel like I have to contextualise a few things because people get confused. And of course audiences vary. So we’re not on the same page, all of us. The show is read differently in different cities, according to the audiences and the space.”

Born in Gugulethu and raised by his aunt, Wa Lehuluere has been moving between art and activism and rebelling against the education system since the school bell rang. “My teacher noticed that I was struggling with the curriculum, English in particular, I could not relate to Shakespeare as works of art, they just didn’t speak to me,” he said. “So she began taking books out of the library for me, which is when I started discovering black writers. By the time I arrived at university I was already critical of education as a package, as well as black writers who were erased,” he said.

Wa Lehulere has four solo exhibitions, 50 group exhibitions and six residencies under his belt, in cities such as New York, France, Switzerland and Johannesburg. He’s no stranger but mentions more than once he has come to understand the ‘complexities of what it means to operate in the art world’.

“I’m critically aware of institutional power, the university, the education system, the art world, even Standard Bank Young Artist as an institution so I dance within these things.”

Continue reading on Africa is a Country

by Leila Dee Dougan

Photo Credit: Kemang Wa Lehulere

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