Kemang Wa Lehulere announced as Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2017

Deutsche Bank awards the South African artist with its prestigious title.

Now at its 8th edition, the Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year nomination has gone to South African artist Keman Wa Lehulere, whose practice explores “the relevance of the artistic gesture in post-Apartheid South Africa”.

Kemang Wa Lehulere, 2015. Photo: Adam McConnachie. © Kemang Wa Lehulere

Kemang Wa Lehulere, 2015. Photo: Adam McConnachie. © Kemang Wa Lehulere.

This year at its eighth edition, the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year goes to South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere, who will present his first institutional solo exhibition in Germany at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle in Berlin in spring 2017.

Awarded each year since its inception in 2010, the title is given on the recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, which consists of a group of renowned curators including Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann and Victoria Noorthoorn.

Previous awardees include Egyptian artist Basim Magdy (2016), Japan’s Koki Tanaka (2015), Pakistani Imran Qureshi (2013), Moroccan artist Yto Barrada (2011) and Nigeria’s Wangechi Mutu (2010), among others.

Kemang Wa Lehulere, 'Economy of bodily movements', 2013, ink on paper, 75 x 104.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Deutsche Bank. © Kemang Wa Lehulere | Deustche Bank Collection

Kemang Wa Lehulere, ‘Economy of Bodily Movements’, 2013, ink on paper, 75 x 104.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Deutsche Bank. © Kemang Wa Lehulere | Deustche Bank Collection.

Who is Kemang Wa Lehulere?

Born in 1984 in Cape Town, South Africa, Kemang Wa Lehulere is currently based between Johannesburg and Cape Town. He is considered one of the most influential artists of a new generation in South Africa whose practices span a range of genres and media, perspectives and modes of expression, as well as political action. Lehulere’s work incorporate drawing, found pictorial material, personal memories and text that together uncover the gap between personal and official history about racism and injustice. His work alludes to South Africa’s apartheid era, with research-based performances, videos, installations and chalk drawings, resulting from his individual practice.

Lehulere also works collaboratively, such as with the South African exhibition platform Center for Historical Reenactments, established in 2010. From 2006, he worked with the Cape Town-based artist group Gugulective, of which he is a co-founder.

Kemang Wa Lehulere, 'I can’t laugh anymore', 2015, chalk on blackboard paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Stevenson Cape Town and Johannesburg. © Kemang Wa Lehulere

Kemang Wa Lehulere, ‘I Can’t Laugh Anymore’, 2015, chalk on blackboard paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy STEVENSON Cape Town and Johannesburg. © Kemang Wa Lehulere.

Wa Lehulere often focuses on black South African history, re-looking and re-imagining the archive of narratives relating to black artists, musicians and authors in an attempt to prevent their work and lives from disappearing. His exhibition “History Will Break Your Heart”, currently touring South Africa, recalls artists such as Gladys Mgudlandlu and Ernest Mancoba, the first modern black South African artist who cofounded the artist group CoBrA in the 1940s.

In an interview with Africa is a Country, Wa Lehulere commented:

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. […] Things need to change, it’s 2015. And the change is not about hate towards white people, it’s about saying that we also exist, we’ve been existing, we’re also human beings and both Mancoba and Gladys that’s what they’re fighting for, just a simple desire to be human it’s not about hate, in fact it’s about love. Self-love is very important.

Kemang Wa Lehulere, 'Reddening of the greens or dog sleep manifesto', 2015, suitcases, earth, grass, blackboard, salvaged school desks (wood), porcelain dogs, dimensions variable. Installation view. Image courtesy Stevenson Cape Town and Johannesburg. © Kemang Wa Lehulere

Kemang Wa Lehulere, ‘Reddening of the Greens or Dog Sleep Manifesto’, 2015, suitcases, earth, grass, blackboard, salvaged school desks (wood), porcelain dogs, dimensions variable. Installation view. Image courtesy Stevenson Cape Town and Johannesburg. © Kemang Wa Lehulere.

Wa Lehulere has shown internationally, including at the 8th Berlin Biennale (2014), the 2nd Triennial of the New Museum in New York (2012), and the 11th Biennale de Lyon (2011), as well as at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle as part of the exhibition “The Circle Walked Casually” (2013-2014) and the 12th Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal (2016).

Quoted in the announcement press release, Victoria Noorthoorn, Director of the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires, said:

Kemang Wa Lehulere is a refined artist of the highest order. He explores the relevance of the artistic gesture in post-Apartheid South Africa. In his wall drawings, collages, and complex performances, he revisits his own history and the pain of his society by creating poignant images that are never literal or explanatory, but are instead a territory to be traversed, understood, and revealed.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Award ceremonies, South African artists, prizes, banks, news

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