Interviews Wa Lehulere’s art reclaims lost art history

Wa Lehulere’s art reclaims lost art history

Faceless busts are arranged among upside down, deconstructed school desks. Each steel leg wears a black gumboot with gold soles. Gold dogs preside over the scene, and empty music stands emphasise an eerie silence.

Kemang Wa Lehulere presents a few of his sculptures amongst other collected paintings at his "History Will Break Your Heart"exhibition at the monument gallery. The exhibition also features artworks of Wa Lehulere's aunt, Sophie Lehulere. Photo: Aaliyah Tshabalala

Kemang Wa Lehulere presents a few of his sculptures amongst other collected paintings at his “History Will Break Your Heart”exhibition at the monument gallery. The exhibition also features artworks of Wa Lehulere’s aunt, Sophie Lehulere. Photo: Aaliyah Tshabalala

Kemang Wa Lehulere’s installation, History Will Break Your Heart, stands at the centre of the art exhibitions at this year’s Festival. The Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner showcases a visual conversation about South African art, artists and forgotten histories.

“I can’t change things, I can only bring attention to certain things,” says Wa Lehulere, who stands in front of the black boots and gold dogs. “I wanted to create a framework in which the viewer can make their own meaning.”

The installation recalls the strife of schoolchildren, miners and the Marikana massacre, and an ambiguous scene of dogs, that could be guardians, watchdogs or attack dogs.

The faceless figures could be young children, miners or suffering souls – again, the features are open to interpretation. “They are generic, without names, so that they can be anybody,” explains Wa Lehulere.

The gumboots, however, vaguely refer to the South African mining industry. “The gold on the bottom of the boots represent gold mine residue and they are upside down to symbolise the fallen figure.”

Fallen and forgotten figures are a recurring theme in the exhibition, where Wa Lehulere has not only searched for answers, but raised new questions about art, history and the creative process.

“I started off painting township scenes. Then I started reading and I discovered a world beyond the township,” he says. “I started thinking about what it means to be an artist, and what we can make. I wanted to search for something else. But I don’t think being an artist is about making things.”

The exhibition explores his artistic endeavours, as well as the works of other South African artists – who are living, learning or long deceased. “This is very different from anything I have done before ever. Almost 90 percent of these works aren’t mine.”

In addition to Wa Lehulere’s installation, artworks and films on exhibit celebrate the works of the late Gladys Mgudlandlu and Ernest Mancoba.

“These are artists that have been written out of history,” says Wa Lehulere, who raised funds to purchase some of Mgudlandlu’s works at an auction, and visited New York in 2013 to read poetry over Nat Nakasa’s grave. “Including them in the exhibition is an act of love,” he says, “A gesture of kindness. It’s special.”

The exhibition also features the artworks of Wa Lehulere’s aunt, Sophie Lehulere, as she attempts to recreate the mural she had seen as a child in Mgudlandlu’s home.

“Conceptually, the exhibition is three narratives. It’s very fragmented, but this is the nature of South African history.”

History Will Break Your Heart
Monument Gallery, daily, 9am – 6pm
By Sarah Rose de Villiers

Leave a Reply


Latest CueTube video

Twitter

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in D:\iis\cue\wp-content\plugins\gantry\core\gantrygzipper.class.php on line 153