“Improvisation Like in Jazz”
The Press on Kemang Wa Lehulere at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

With “Bird Song” the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle presented Kemang Wa Lehulere in Germany for the first time in a comprehensive exhibition. The press was enthusiastic about the at once poetic and political works of the South African artist.
The New York Times called Kemang Wa Lehulere “South Africa’s Rising Art Star.” And after he received the Deutsche Bank “Artist of the Year” 2017 award, Art Afrika magazine interviewed the artist in depth about his work and his plans for his exhibition in Berlin. Wa Lehulere’s show at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle met with great interest. For Art, it was one of the “most exciting exhibitions of the week,” while Informationsdienst Kunst said it was a “truly recommendable exhibition.” Kunstmarkt.com felt that it was a “complex show well that is worth seeing,” emphasizing “the poetic force in the simultaneously politically charged work of Kemang Wa Lehulere.” “Bird Song,” writes Angela Hohmann in the Berliner Morgenpost, “shows a multifaceted artist who knows how to play with all media. It is no accident that he is being celebrated internationally as one of the most important representatives of a young generation of South African artists.” Also for Harper’s Bazaar he is one of the „most important, young, critical artistic voices from South Africa.“

Wa Lehulere’s “works—installations, drawings, paintings, and performances—speak of inner strife and oppression, engage with apartheid and the consequences of colonialism in South Africa,” asserts Olga Potschernina from Art in Berlin. On the Deutschlandfunk Kultur radio program, Jochen Stöckmann describes the show at the KunstHalle as an “associative web of pictorial inventions, historical allusions, and critical commentaries on our age.” The artist, says Stöckmann, does not react to the difficult situation of South African society with “little escapes or big utopias. Kemang Wa Lehulere traces contradictions, makes fissures visible, gives reason for hope.” On Radio1, Marie Kaiser avers that the show creates “very different, associative, and immediate access to a country whose history I only know from afar.” In Tip Johannes Wendland writes: “The works of Kemang Wa Lehulere have biographical, political, and historical depth. Yet they are above all very poetic. And that makes them so convincing the longer you occupy yourself with them.” „‚Bird Song‘“, Will Furtado remarks in Contemporary &, „shows an artist making use of diverse approaches that put the present into perspective, yet without fetishizing the past.“ Contemporary And (C&), a magazine that reflects on contemporary art practice from African perspectives, also featured an extensive interview with the artist on his exhibition at the KunstHalle.

The critics were particularly won over by his sculptural works. In Monopol Sophie Aschenbrenner writes: “Wa Lehulere’s installation consisting of old school desks, a symbol of power and education, is impressive: Suspended above the visitors, Broken Wing (2016) recalls colonialism.” And Ingeborg Ruthe (Berliner Zeitung/Frankfurter Rundschau) had this to say about the sculpture executed using crutches: “Giant clamps press together a Xhosa bible and two sets of teeth into each crutch. An apt metaphor for coercion and bondage.” Only Brigitte Werneburg from taz is not so certain. While she praises the “lively presentation,” she is turned off by the “strangely didactic, narrative impression” of the installations.

Wa Lehulere’s “entire passion, the pain of the apartheid generation, and his personal convictions are reflected in his artworks,” writes Jana Hansen in LoNam. Das Afrika-Magazin. In Zitty, Claudia Wahjudi remarks that he transforms the KunstHalle “into an intellectual space for the subject in history.” Simone Reber writes in Tagesspiegel: “In the meandering narrative of his black and white exhibition at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Kemang Wa Lehulere weaves together individual and collective history, past and present.” “You can experience ‘Bird Song’ (…) as a sound structure, as improvisation like in jazz. (…) Or you can listen to the conversation between young and old, living and dead. And you see the white spot that the silence about the dark past has left behind.”