March 21, 2017 - Deutsche Bank KunstHalle - Kemang Wa Lehulere: Bird Song
March 21, 2017

Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

Kemang Wa Lehulere, My Apologies to Time, 2017. Installation, mixed media. © Kemang Wa Lehulere. Courtesy STEVENSON Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Kemang Wa Lehulere
Bird Song
"Artist of the Year" 2017
March 24–June 18, 2017

Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
Unter den Linden 13/15
10117 Berlin
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With Bird Song, the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle is presenting the first institutional solo exhibition of Kemang Wa Lehulere in Germany. Deutsche Bank’s "Artist of the Year" 2017 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 social commentary.

His work, which includes installations, drawings, and wall pieces, in addition to painting, theatre, performance, and videos, takes the repressed history of his home country South Africa as his point of departure. 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 multilayered symbol of freedom that is yearned for, fought for, and suppressed, or whose voice has been silenced.

One of the inspirations for Bird Song has been the work of Gladys Mgudlandlu (1917–79), one of the first black artists to exhibit work in a South African gallery. She repeatedly painted birds, which is why she was called “Bird Lady.” After her death, Mgudlandlu was largely forgotten. Recently Wa Lehulere rediscovered one of her murals in a private house in Gugulethu, the township in Cape Town, where he grew up. It shows a colorful bird and had been hidden by several layers of paint for decades. Wa Lehulere’s research led to a new reception of Mgudlandlu’s oeuvre. While he documents this research into her life and work with texts and videos, in the exhibition, Mgudlandlu’s watercolors correspond with his own works—as a kind of dialogue between South Africa’s present and past.

Wa Lehulere’s search for traces is connected to a journey into his own family history, which is marked by the trauma of Apartheid. He examines mechanisms of oppression and conditioning that inscribe themselves from childhood on—not only into one’s thinking, but also into the body. Using old school furniture, crutches, and prostheses, Wa Lehulere builds sculptures that speak to collective loss and injury and to the connection between knowledge and power. The installation My Apologies to Time (2017) consists of old school desks. Schools can be breeding grounds for thought, but also ideological instruments of control and conditioning. 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. On the other hand, his installation Broken Wing (2017) explores historical missionary work and eminent domain as well as the biblical Fall.

The exhibition was curated by Britta Färber, Chief Curator in Deutsche Bank’s Art, Culture & Sports department.

In addition to solo shows—most recently until the beginning of 2017 at the Art Institute of Chicago—Kemang Wa Lehulere, who was born in Cape Town, has taken part in many international group exhibitions, including the 12th Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar (2016), the 2nd Triennial of the New Museum in New York (2012), and the 11th Biennale de Lyon (2011).

In Berlin, works by the artist were shown in 2014 as part of the 8th Berlin Biennale at the Museum Dahlem and in 2013/2014 at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in the context of the exhibition project The Circle Walked Casually. Kemang Wa Lehulere is currently one of the nominees for the Future Generation Art Prize 2017.

After Wangechi Mutu, Yto Barrada, Roman Ondák, Imran Qureshi, Victor Man, Koki Tanaka, and Basim Magdy, Kemang Wa Lehulere is now Deutsche Bank’s eighth international “Artist of the Year.” The award is given on the recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, which consists of the renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Victoria Noorthoorn. The award goes to a contemporary artist who has created an artistically, as well as socially relevant, oeuvre, one integrating the media of paper and photography—the two main areas of focus of the Deutsche Bank Collection.

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