William Kentridge

Casspirs Full of Love

1989, published 2000

Not on display

William Kentridge born 1955
Etching and drypoint on paper
Image: 1485 × 812 mm
Purchased with funds provided by Edwin C. Cohen 2001


Casspirs Full of Love is a drypoint etching in an edition of thirty of which this is number twenty-nine. The edition was printed in two stages. The plate was created in 1989 and from it Kentridge printed seventeen sheets out of the projected edition of thirty. He re-worked the plate several times, resulting in variations within the edition. In 2000 the plate was shipped to Jack Shirreff at 107 Workshop, Wiltshire, England and thirteen further prints were pulled to complete the edition. These thirteen similar prints provide the final version of the image. The edition was published by David Krut, London. The etching was based on a poster-sized drawing Kentridge made in 1989, which was mounted on the façade of Vanessa Devereux Gallery in London on the occasion of his solo exhibition there that year. It depicts a ladder-like box of shelves containing seven severed, male heads. The title appears in sloping, cursive handwriting on the right side of the image running vertically from top to bottom. ‘What comfort now?’ is written in dots on the left side. Above the first rung-like horizontal partition of the box the words ‘not a step’ both confirm and deny the ladder-reading of the image. They suggest that the accumulation of decapitated heads is not progress, even though the head at the top bears the number 1. The two heads in the narrow, top partition appear to have more western features than those below, which look African. The structure represented by the box and its contents replicates that of the South African political system in 1989, when the country was still under the rule of the white-only National Party and its regime of apartheid (1948-94).

The ironic title of Casspirs Full of Love was inspired by a radio message in which a mother wished her son in the army on the South African border ‘a good tour of duty’ and ‘a safe return’, sending the message ‘with Casspirs full of love’ (quoted in William Kentridge 1998, p.163). A casspir is an armoured riot-control vehicle. They were used first by the South African army to protect its borders with Angola and Mozambique and later by the security forces to quell riots and demonstrations. The original drawing Casspirs Full of Love was made at a particularly turbulent time in South African political history. In 1985, as a result of increasing township violence, South African President P.W. Botha (president 1978-89) declared a state of emergency in some areas of the country. The security forces were given broad powers to arrest and detain suspects at will and the media was banned from documenting the racial unrest. The state of emergency was renewed every year until 1990 when President F.W. de Klerk (president 1989-94) began the reforms which led to the eventual dismantling of the apartheid system.

During this period much of Kentridge’s work satirised both the wealthy ruling white classes and the impoverished and down-trodden blacks, providing an ambiguous viewpoint. Culturally divided between the European colonial heritage which had supplied his education and the very different reality constituted by South Africa as an (albeit reluctant) African nation, Kentridge used figurative methods to express his political disaffection. His large-scale drawings are partly influenced by the charcoal drawings of black South African artist Dumile (Mslaba Zwelidumile Fene 1942-91) of whom Kentridge has said that he ‘had the capacity to express things on a scale that I thought drawings could not achieve. He is the key local artist who influenced me’ (quoted in William Kentridge 1998, p.25). Although Dumile emigrated to the U.S.A. in 1968, Kentridge and other South African artists followed his expressionistic style of representation, unfashionable in the northern hemisphere after the Conceptual movement, to make art politically involved in the fight against apartheid.

Drawings of black bodies appear in many of Kentridge’s animated films. These include sleeping bodies stacked in bunks underground in Mine 1991 (Tate T07484) and murdered bodies and fragments of bodies in Felix in Exile 1994 (Tate T07479).

Further reading:
Neal Benezra, Staci Boris, Dan Cameron, William Kentridge, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York 2001, pp.18 and 61, reproduced p.80, (detail) p.61
Dan Cameron, Carolyn Cristov-Barkagiev, J.M. Coetzee, William Kentridge, London 1999, p.50, reproduced (colour) p.50
Carolyn Cristov-Barkagiev, William Kentridge, exhibition catalogue, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels 1998, pp.29 and 163, reproduced p.29

Elizabeth Manchester
January 2002

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Display caption

Casspirs Full of Love depicts a structure resembling a shelved box containing seven severed heads. It relates to the state of emergency in South Africa, under which security forces had the right to detain suspects without warrant or trial, leading to many state-sanctioned murders. The title was inspired by a mother who sent a radio message to her son in the army ‘with casspirs full of love’. A casspir is an armoured riot-control vehicle. The imagery in this print is echoed in Kentridge’s film Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris in the adjacent gallery.

Gallery label, November 2007

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