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Kentridge makes short animation films from large-scale drawings in charcoal and pastel on paper. Each drawing, which contains a single scene, is successively altered through erasing and redrawing and photographed in 16 or 35mm film at each stage of its evolution. Remnants of successive stages remain on the paper, and provide a metaphor for the layering of memory which is one of Kentridge's principal themes. The films in this series, titled Drawings for Projection (see Tate T07482, T07484-5 and T07479-81), are set in the devastated landscape south of Johannesburg where derelict mines and factories, mine dumps and slime dams have created a terrain of nostalgia and loss. Kentridge's repeated erasure and redrawing, which leave marks without completely transforming the image, together with the jerky movement of the animation, operate in parallel with his depiction of human processes, both physical and political, enacted on the landscape.
Monument is Kentridge's second film in the series and explores his feelings of ambivalence about the privileges and comforts of the white South African society into which he was born. It was made from a basis of eleven drawings and is accompanied by music composed by Edward Jordan. Soho Eckstein, wealthy real estate developer, here assumes the guise of civic benefactor and erects a monument to the black South African work force, from whose labour his wealth is derived. The monument is a huge statue of an anonymous African workman. During the ceremony of unveiling the monument, in the first half of the film, the statue comes to life. Slowed by the enormous burden on his shoulders, he makes his way across the outskirts of the city, before disappearing into the distant landscape. As both product and embodiment of nature, he represents the moral dilemma at the core of Soho's empire and, by analogy, that of the white South African élite. Soho may feel sufficient gratitude towards the anonymous multitudes labouring for his luxury to build a monument in tribute to their work, but if in this act of recognition they become human, he must acknowledge their suffering and his abuse of them. For Kentridge, abuse of the populace runs parallel to exploitation of the land, as the second half of the film makes clear by the proliferation of billboards, lamp posts, loud-speakers, microphones and other bleak geometric forms appearing throughout the gradually expanding urban landscape.
Dan Cameron, Carolyn Cristov-Barkagiev, J.M. Coetzee, William Kentridge, London 1999, reproduced (colour) pp.57-9
Carolyn Cristov-Barkagiev, William Kentridge, exhibition catalogue, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels 1998, pp.52-7, reproduced (detail) p.51, (colour) pp.53-4, 56