Deutsche Bank KunstHalle recently introduced their 2017 "Artist of the Year" – Kemang Wa Lehulere – with a comprehensive solo exhibition titled "Bird Song". It is the first German institutional solo show of this young South African artist, and it adds up to the growing recognition he is receiving worldwide.
Wa Lehulere's work focuses on the repressed history of his country. The exhibition "Bird Song" was initially inspired by the murals of Gladys Mgudlandlu, the first black female artist to exhibit in South African galleries in the 1960s, which the artist rediscovered in his hometown Gugulethu. His research led not only to a new reception of Mgudlandlu’s oeuvre, but also to a new dialogue between South Africa’s present and past. The bird as a motif released from Mgudlandlu's work became a multilayered symbol of freedom and the struggle for equality in the apartheid-influenced history of his country.
We briefly spoke with Kemang about "Bird Song", which will be on view at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle until June 18. Additional events will take place parallel to the show, where you will have the chance to learn more about the exhibition and the related topics, as well as meet the artist in person.
What will you be presenting at your upcoming show at Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle?
There is a body of drawings and sculptures in the show, a photographic print, a video and a wall carving.
Each of your pieces is breathing heavily with historical, political, and symbolic references and meanings. What are some of the topics and ideas you wish to bring to surface through your work?
Here my starting point is the work of Gladys Mgudlandlu. The work speaks to ideas around land ownership and displacement. It is about education and history. History located in a South African context but history that speaks to the world at large, both in a historical and contemporary sense.
Where do you find inspiration?
I am inspired by music, literature, theatre, films, great conversations, interesting cities, people, sounds, the sun rise, the sun set, rain, wind, happiness, sadness. It all depends on the day and mood.
What role does art have in the political landscape of your home country? Do you feel that there is some progress and power coming with the new generation of artists? If so, how do they help diminish social injustice?
There is a certain socio-political awareness that has swept through the country in the last few years and it is reflecting more and more in the work South African including artists of other nationalities who are living and practicing here in South Africa. I don’t know if we can diminish social injustice through art but we try every day and only time will tell the results.
What else can you tell us about your work at the moment? Any current or future projects you would like to share with us?
I’m excited to release the jazz album I produced as part of the exhibition.
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Kemang Wa Lehulere – "Bird Song"
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle / Unter den Linden 13–15, 10117 Berlin, U Französische Str.
March 24 – June 24, 2017
"Concert & Drinks - bird song project" (April 26, 2017 @ Deutsche Bank KunstHalle)
Kemang Wa Lehulere produced the “bird song album” in collaboration with the free jazz musician Mandla Mlangeni. Besides the two South African artists, Sebastian Schuster, Christoph Heckeler, and Thomas Wörle will perform the songs live in the exhibition.
“How to Fix the Art World” - Paneldiscussion (May 17, 2017 @ Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle)
Natasha Ginwala, Alya Sebti, Syafiatudina, Yvette Mutumba, and Julia Grosse in conversation on the global art scene and how the current tendencies influence their work.