Work on Paper
Indian ink on found pages
316.0 x 178.0 (cm)
124.4 x 70.1 (inch)In a recent series of ink drawings on found paper, William Kentridge merges seemingly benign images of flowers with text sourced from Chinese parables, Tang Dynasty poetry and Maoist slogans. These drawings emerged out of the research Kentridge conducted for his first major retrospective in China titled "Notes Towards a Model Opera", first exhibited at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing and currently at MMCA in Seoul. These works all reference and recall the contradictions within periods of revolutionary fervour, touching on both the radical socialist and revolutionary government of the Paris Commune in 1871 and Mao Zedong’s turbulent three decades in power, during which he embraced and redefined political sloganeering, often alluding to ancient Chinese verse. While
Kentridge cites particular slogans of the Cultural Revolution such as “Hold the Open Heart”, in his depictions of flowers he also evokes one of the Chairman’s most acknowledged mantras: “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend”. This was particularly used in order to invite outspoken criticism of his party, as BBC journalist Joe Boyle explains. But when the condemnation came, it was ubiquitous and acrimonious and a year later, this open call for analysis was abolished. Historians often question if this was a genuine attempt at transparency that went wrong, or a suspicious conspiracy to expose “counter-revolutionaries”. In essence these works explore the paradoxical nature of political manipulation, and the potential of leaders such as Mao to obliterate what he helped build.