If Kemang Wa Lehulere is not yet on your radar, it would be worthwhile giving him a place right in the centre now. The Cape Town-born artist, who won the Standard Bank Young Artist award in the Visual Art category for 2015, has just been recognised as the Deutsche Bank’s new Artist of the Year for 2017.
This decision was made by the highly prestigious Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, which includes international art heavyweights like Nigerian curator and art critic Okwui Enwezor and Chinese curator and Artistic Director of Rome’s MAXXI Hou Hanru. It’s certainly remarkable that people of such calibre are looking to and rewarding South African talent.
The acknowledgement certainly doesn’t come out of nowhere though. Kemang has been turning heads and picking up awards for quite some time now, and he’s participated in a number of international group exhibitions too. Si it’s hard to deny that he’s deserving of a title that the likes of Kenyan-born, New York-based artist and sculptor Wangechi Mutu, Egypt-born visionary Basim Magdy and Romanian painter Victor Man have held in the past.
Part of what makes Kemang’s body of work so impressive is the fact that he creates across a broad spectrum of genres. In fact, he is widely praised for being part of a new group of local artists who constantly challenge themselves to explore different media in order to grow their skills and find new forms of expression.
His performances, videos, collages, installations and chalk drawings are largely focused on the themes of black South African history, racism and injustice, the pain of his own past and the discrepancy between individual, personal memories and official, documented history. In other words, his works serve as very relevant commentary on current times and an important form of political action.
In line with his being named Artist of the Year for 2017, he will present his first institutional solo show in Germany at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin in 2017. If you’d like to see his latest works locally, you can catch his exhibition History Will Break Your Heart, which is touring South Africa at the moment (it’s at Johannesburg’s Standard Bank Gallery from 15 April to 18 June 2016).
To find out more about the Deutsche Bank Global Art Programme, visit art.db.com.
Images are by Kemang Wa Lehulere, courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg.