Winner of the Baloise Art Prize 2013.
Kemang Wa Lehulere, who lives in his native city of Cape Town, is one of the leading members of a younger generation of South African artists who use a variety of mediums and genres to develop alternative views and narrative methods to devise other forms of remembering. His chalk drawings, videos, installations, and performances are all preceded by detailed research. Kemang Wa Lehulere realizes these either on his own or in artists’ collectives, such as the Center for Historical Reenactments in Johannesburg, and the now disbanded Gugulective, which he cofounded in 2006.
Wa Lehulere frequently engages with the history of South Africa and how people deal with that history. His drawings combine found visual materials from myths, personal experience, and the era of apartheid. While he is interested in both collective memory and individual histories, his main focus is on processes of archiving and discovering, as well as on the repression and extinguishing of remembrance in words and images. Which things are forgotten, which events linger on in people’s memories? Wa Lehulere’s oeuvre makes its point through openness and process, through strategies of overwriting and reconstruction. It derives from the notion that all manifestations of art evolve by dint of collective processes, and it raises historical and social issues that are still relevant and important to us today.
The drawings by Wa Lehulere in the Baloise collection tell—in reduced, abstract forms—of motion and equilibrium, tension and potential configurations in space. They radiate meditative, even spiritual ease, and convey an impression of the artist’s sensitive handling of his materials. Unlike the chalk drawings that generally fill entire rooms, which Wa Lehulere creates in public performances, these drawings are more delicate and in much smaller formats. Titles such as “Sketch for a Situation” and Negotiation indicate that these works address not only spiritual, but also social and political power plays and patterns. Although in these poetic, reserved works Wa Lehulere does not—as so often—directly confront South Africa’s past and current social issues, he still communicates his own distinctive way of looking at things, and adeptly combines different pictorial traditions.