Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin presents Bird Song by South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere, which is currently ongoing till June 18, 2017. The title of the exhibition, is taken from a classic jazz song written for Miriam Makeba. Jazz is an integral part of Wa Lehulere’s work and life. As an exclusive edition for the show, he and the free jazz musician Mandla Mlangeni recorded an album and composed all the pieces.
Kemang Wa Lehulere is one of the most important representatives of a new generation of South African artists who work in many different genres and media in order to develop new perspectives and narrative modes, as well as new forms of political commentary. His work, which now includes installations in addition to painting, theatre, performance, and actions, focuses on the repressed history of his home country South Africa. Wa Lehulere unearths submerged memories, bringing fragile beauty and poetry to his art. In his works, he reconstructs things that were lost or destroyed and at the same time makes the destruction visible. Thus the recurring motif of the bird in this exhibition is a multi-layered symbol of freedom that is yearned for, fought for, and suppressed, or whose voice has been silenced.
Indeed, at the beginning of his exhibition project Bird Song a bird is freed symbolically. Wa Lehulere’s photograph shows a seemingly archaeological situation. Peeping out of a rectangular field chiselled out of reddish plaster is a segment of a mural picturing a colourful bird. It was painted by Gladys Mgudlandlu (1917-1979), who adorned her house in Gugulethu, a township in Cape Town, with the wall painting.
Wa Lehulere’s artistic production is rooted deeply in his biography; in his childhood in Gugulethu; in his work with the artists’ collective Gugulective; in books, music, and travels. The installation in the first section of the exhibition space, titled My Apologies to Time, 2017, consists of old school desks. After dismantling them, Wa Lehulere made birdhouses out of the desktops and used the steel legs as connecting elements. The abandoned houses in his installations are in different physical states: open, closed, or reduced to a rudimentary form. The only bird on view is stuffed. School furniture appears again and again in Lehulere’s installations, converted into structures that address how knowledge is imparted as well as issues of power and powerlessness.
Kemang Wa Lehulere was born 1984 in Cape Town. He holds a bachelor of art degree in fine arts from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2011. He has exhibited at the Goethe-Institut, Johannesburg (2011); The Ungovernables, the second triennial exhibition of the New Museum in New York (2012); Lombard Freid Projects, New York (2013); the 8th Berlin Biennale (2014); Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2014); Gasworks, London (2015); and Art Institute of Chicago (2016). Wa Lehulere is a winner of several awards, he was one of two young artists awarded the 15th Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel in 2013, won the first International Tiberius Art Award Dresden in 2014, was the Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Arts in 2015 and he is Deutsche Bank’s ‘Artist of the Year’ 2017.
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