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William Kentridge at the Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam
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In the Black Box
William Kentridge at the Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam

A miniature theater—machine, world stage, and darkroom in one. William Kentridge’s Black Box / Chambre Noire is a constantly changing space in which mechanical figures hum, pictures and animated sequences flicker, music plays. Now, the fascinating gesamtkunstwerk, made in 2005 as a commission for the Deutsche Guggenheim, can be seen in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.

A dancing rhinoceros, paper figures that glide across a puppet stage, the music of Mozart, animated charcoal drawings, and documentary film footage—William Kentridge’s Black Box / Chambre Noire uses a fanciful, refined aesthetic to investigate historical trauma. The multimedia installation, comprised of animated film, objects, drawings, and a mechanical miniature theater, addresses the 1904 Herero massacre, in which German troops nearly wiped out the tribe in German Southwest Africa, today’s Namibia; many historians consider it the first genocide of the 20th century.

Kentridge is considered to be one of the most important contemporary artists. For more than 20 years, his work has been shown around the world, from the Venice Biennale (1993) to the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010). His video installation Refusal of Time is one of the highlights of the current documenta 13. Throughout his career, the artist, who was born in 1955 in Johannesburg, has been examining the legacies of Africa’s colonial period and South African Apartheid. While Kentridge works in a variety of mediums, the process of drawing and partial erasure plays a key role in his work. In Black Box / Chambre Noire, it creates an elegiac sense of mourning, where erasure symbolizes the blurring and repression of memory and the indelible traces of the past.

William Kentridge: Black Box / Chambre Noire
Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam
7/16 – 11/25/2012

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