William Kentridge Ubu Tells the Truth 1997 | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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Ubu Tells the Truth 1997

Animated 35mm film with charcoal drawings, drawings in chalk on a black background and documentary photographs and 16mm film transferred to video; 8 min

This suite of 8 etchings depicts the notorious despot Ubu Roi, created by avant garde playwright Alfred Jarry in 1896. In Jarry's farce, Père Ubu--a mediocre, middle level official--is urged by his wife to murder Poland's royal family to become king himself. His is a reign of terror and corruption, and his character comes to personify all that is base, cruel and stupid in the world.

Originally designed for marionettes, Jarry's farce caused an uproar in Paris and helped shape the progress of avant-garde theater in the 20th century. In the late 1990s, Kentridge was invited to participate in an exhibition entitled "Ubu + 100". He produced a whole series of narratives about the character, fitting the iconic villain into a South African context. In these etchings,

Kentridge splits the Ubu character in two (a similar format to his ongoing narrative feud between Felix and Soho in his other works), suggesting with the different forms, a rift between the public and private self. The absurd but devastating despot is pictured in chalk white outline, wielding his sword and pontificating through a megaphone, while the nude figure is shown trapped within, subsumed by his outer persona but constantly trying to rid or cleanse himself of his public actions.


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