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Porter Series—Man with Bed on Back, 2006 
William Kentridge (South African, b. 1955) 
Mohair, silk and embroidery
123 x 90 3/4 inches
Private collection

Porter Series—Man with Bed on Back, 2006 William Kentridge (South African, b. 1955) Mohair, silk and embroidery 123 x 90 3/4 inches Private collection


Notations/William Kentridge: Tapestries

December 12, 2007–April 6, 2008

Incisively political and profoundly poetic, William Kentridge's protean artistic investigation continues in his beautiful series of tapestries begun in 2001. The tapestries stem from a series of drawings in which he conjured shadowy figures from ripped construction paper and collaged them onto the web-like background of nineteenth-century atlas maps. As the fourth and most ambitious installment of "Notations"—the Museum's ongoing series of installations that explore specific aspects of contemporary art—William Kentridge: Tapestries is the first exhibition of the artist's tapestries in the United States. The tapestries, along with related works—drawings, bronze sculptures, etchings, and an artist book—fill two galleries, plotting a course through the artistic context from which the tapestries originate.

Exhibition Minutes

Layers represent the passage of time... var f_width=133; var f_height=150; var f_divname="flashCast"; var f_file="Kentridge Tapestries,Kentridge On Medium,Kentridge Office Love,Kentridge Shadows,Kentridge Porters,Kentridge Maps,Kentridge Literature"; var f_filetype="exhibitionMinutes"; var f_title="Tapestries,On Medium,Office Love,Shadows,Porters,Maps,Literature"; Listen to or download artist William Kentridge's 7-part Podcast.
var f_width=133; var f_height=60; var f_divname="flashCast2"; var f_file="Kentridge Overview,Kentridge Organic Feeling"; var f_filetype="exhibitionMinutes"; var f_title="Overview,Organic Feeling"; Listen to or download Curator Carlos Basualdo's 2-part Podcast. Available in The hybrid figures that emerge in multiple mediums throughout the exhibition derive from Kentridge's longstanding interest in shadows and projections. Collaged atop atlas pages in Kentridge's Puppet Drawings, marching across the accordion-style encyclopedia in his Portage book, and materializing into bronze sculptures, the figures—often burdened with the weight of objects and the world—become refugees, migrants, and movers of possessions. Silhouetted so that porter and parcel become one, Kentridge's processional characters evoke the political and cultural volatility that characterized recent South African history while also alluding to a global condition of transit and transition. To reincarnate these figures into tapestry, Kentridge worked in close collaboration with the Johannesburg-based Stephens Tapestry Studio, mapping out cartoons from enlarged photographs of the drawings and hand-picking dyes to color the locally spun mohair (goat hair). The tapestries' processional figures trek across mapped geography and into new artistic territory for Kentridge, but one in which the mechanism of drawing and the power of shadows remain central to his representations of a world in transition.

Stephens Tapestry Studio

Marguerite Stephens annotating a hand-drawn cartoon of one of William Kentridge's <i>Puppet Drawings</i> in preparation for the weaving of a tapestry. Photo by John Hodgkiss, courtesy of William Kentridge Studio.

Marguerite Stephens annotating a hand-drawn cartoon of one of William Kentridge's Puppet Drawings in preparation for the weaving of a tapestry. Photo by John Hodgkiss, courtesy of William Kentridge Studio.

Stephens Tapestry Studio

Opened in 1963 as a branch of a carpet and curtain business in Swaziland, the Stephens Tapestry Studio moved in 1965 to Diepsloot, a suburb of Johannesburg in South Africa, where it established itself as an independent workshop focused on raising awareness of weaving as an art. The studio has collaborated with a wide array of artists from South Africa and Europe—including Gillian Ayres, Gerard Sekoto, Eduardo Villa, and Tito Zongu—allowing them to experiment with and realize works in the tapestry medium. Included in many public collections throughout the world, the tapestries produced by the studio have also been exhibited at numerous museums and galleries—most notably at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg since 1970.

Exhibition Minutes

See another whole world open up... var f_divname="mp3player"; var f_width=133; var f_height=80; var f_file="Stephens Collaboration,Stephens The Process,Stephens Studio History"; var f_filetype="exhibitionMinutes"; var f_title="Collaboration,The Process,Studio History"; Listen to or download artist Marguerite Stephens' 3-part Podcast. Available in Stephens and her team of weavers create tapestries that range from wall-sized to monumental. Production begins as a cottage industry in Swaziland, where mohair shorn from goats and purchased in bulk is carded and spun, a process requiring at least ten to fifteen women for each tapestry. Four dyers then achieve a variety of subtle tones working from the three primary colors. The weft is dyed in vats over a wood fire and hung to dry in the sun. The rest of the process takes place at the Diepsloot studio, where Stephens currently employs thirteen women as weavers. Stephens herself participates in the crucial stage of translating the artist's work by hand into a large-scale cartoon. The cartoon is a full-sized map for the weavers to follow with exacting detail, and it includes annotations specifying colors as well as outlining the patterns, forms, and characteristics that comprise the artwork's imagery. Using the French Gobelin high-warp technique, the weavers work on vertical looms, and the weft is woven in a horizontal motion. The cartoon is placed behind the loom face as a guide to the weavers as they create the tapestry from the bottom up. var f_width=310; var f_height=200; var f_asset="stephensTapestryStudio"; var f_divname="flashSlideShow"; Stephens recognizes that the artist involved in the collaboration can be one whose sensibilities exclusively resonate with the decorative aspect of tapestry, or one whose work is also considered political or controversial. While the art of tapestry is based in precision, it also possesses plasticity that can capture many different artistic expressions and can allow for successful collaborations such as the series produced with William Kentridge. Since 2000 Stephens and the weavers in the studio have created nearly a hundred tapestries from the artist's series of seventeen Puppet Drawings. For Stephens, the combination of a strong artistic vision and meticulous execution is what produces a successful tapestry, and it can be judged only when the tapestry is released from the loom and hung for the first time, becoming a work of art in its own right that possesses reverberations of the touch of all who participated in the process of its making. The Stephens Tapestry Studio

Head Weavers: Margaret Zulu, June Xaba
Weavers: Zanele Zulu, Virginia Mzimba, Treasure Zulu, Phuti Zulu, Rhoda Tibha, Daphne Lukhele, Mavis Manzini, Tracy Ncube, Philele Shongwe, Gladis Mzimba
Spinners: Christine Vilakazi, Ida Shongwe, Sipewe Mhonza, Dudu Dlamini
Dyers: Sylvia Mantanga, Hlobsile Fakude, Dunsile Shongwe, Selvia Dlamini


"Notations" is an ongoing series of gallery installations named after the 1968 book by American composer, writer, and visual artist John Cage, who was widely celebrated for his experimental approach to the arts. Cage's Notations was an international and interdisciplinary anthology of scores by avant-garde musicians, with contributions from visual artists and writers. At the same time, it was an exhibition in book form—in which the scores doubled as drawings. The "Notations" series serves as a flexible tool to explore contemporary art in the Museum's expanding collection, allowing for experimentation with various exhibition alternatives.

Main Building

About Kentridge

William Kentridge was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1955, seven years after the 1948 elections that instituted apartheid (Afrikaans for "separateness") as a government-sponsored regime that imposed rigorous restrictions on nonwhite citizens, from mandating the types of employment available to them and controlling areas of tenancy to disallowing their right to vote. The son of two prominent lawyers invested in representing those the apartheid system oppressed, Kentridge came of age, and sought to come to terms with, the fragmented and fractured society of Johannesburg, a city whose elite center was surrounded by shantytowns full of marginalized black, Indian, and other nonwhite populations. As a student at the University of Witwatersrand in the 1970s, Kentridge focused on politics and African Studies, but in the years following he would find theater and art better suited to grappling with his country's tension and plight. He began to act, write, and design sets for the racially integrated Junction Avenue Theatre Company, and he introduced fine art into his repertoire in 1976–78 while studying at the Johannesburg Art Foundation. In 1978, Kentridge began experimenting with film and also had his first solo show at the Market Gallery in Johannesburg. While studying theater and mime in Paris in 1981–82, Kentridge also exhibited in numerous group shows in South Africa with drawings that evoked European influences such as Max Beckmann and Francisco Goya. His short film Howl at the Moon earned a Red Ribbon Award at New York's American Film Festival in 1982, and he garnered a Blue Ribbon in 1985 with another short. Following his first group show in New York in 1986 and first solo show London in 1987, Kentridge made Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris in 1989, the first in his series of animated films deriving from nine Drawings for Projection that tell the epic tale of Kentridge's opposing and semi-autobiographical characters—the avaricious businessman Soho Eckstein and the romantic and somewhat lost soul Felix Teitlebaum. In 1993 Kentridge's films were screened at the Venice Biennale, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. During this period, negotiations within the government started to dismantle South Africa's apartheid system, and in 1994 a democratic election accepted votes from across the populace in an effort to unify the country. Yet the ideals of reintegration in areas such as Johannesburg were met with the volatile reality of the rich and poor populations sharing metropolitan spaces. The city hosted the global art community in 1995 and 1997 for two Johannesburg Biennials, both of which included works by Kentridge. He soon became a leading voice in contemporary art through practice that expressly deals with the plight of South Africa but also resonates with strife-stricken communities and cultures throughout the world. In 1997 his films were included in Documenta X in Kassel, Germany, and in 1998 in New York, the Drawing Center hosted a show of his works on paper, the Museum of Modern Art held Projects 68: William Kentridge, and he was short-listed for the prestigious Hugo Boss Prize at the Soho Guggenheim Museum. By the early twenty-first century, Kentridge's global reputation as one of the most fascinating and innovative artists spurred the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, to co-organize a survey exhibition that also traveled to Washington, D.C., Houston, Los Angeles, and Cape Town. In 2001, Creative Time aired his film Shadow Procession on the NBC Astrovision Panasonic screen in Times Square. Kentridge remained involved in theater simultaneous to his art projects, and his puppet-based play Confessions of Zeno—one of several collaborations with the Handspring Puppet Company in Johannesburg—was presented at Documenta11 in 2002, as was his film Zeno Writing. In 2004–5, a major retrospective of Kentridge's work was shown in Turin, Düsseldorf, Sydney, Montreal, and Johannesburg. His recent staging of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute played to audiences in Brussels, Tel Aviv, Naples, New York, and Johannesburg. Kentridge continues to live and work in Johannesburg, and he is represented internationally by Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, Lia Rumma Gallery in Naples and Milan, and Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.

&lt;i&gt;Untitled Study for Tapestry (Office Love)&lt;/i&gt;, 2001
William Kentridge (South African, b. 1955)
Chine collé and collage
28 3/4 x 37 13/16 inches (73 x 96 cm)
Johannesburg Stock Exchange, South Africa


Support for this exhibition is provided by the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, a program of the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Heritage, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and administered by The University of the Arts. Additional funding was provided by a generous gift from Dina and Jerry Wind.


Carlos Basualdo • Curator of Contemporary Art
Erica Battle • Project Curatorial Assistant

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