Tate Modern

William Kentridge

Natalie Bell Building Level 2 West

William Kentridge Ubu Tells the Truth 1997 (film still). Courtesy the artist

In this animated film, artist William Kentridge reflects on South Africa’s attempts to come to terms with its brutal apartheid past

William Kentridge’s animations are usually made from large-scale charcoaland pastel drawings which he films, then erases, alters and refilms as the narrative progresses. Ubu Tells the Truth 1997 was the first time that he combined his drawings with documentary footage and photographs.

The film was made in South Africa at the time of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission court hearings. The Commission was set up in 1996 to examine human rights abuses during South Africa’s apartheid era. This authoritarian system of government based on racial discrimination and segregation had ended just two years earlier. Perpetrators as well as victims of violence were invited to give their testimony.

Much of the film’s material was originally created for a multimedia theatre production, Ubu and the Truth Commission 1997, a collaboration with playwright Jane Taylor and the Handspring Puppet Company. It was partly inspired by French writer Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play Ubu Roi,
about a cruel and greedy king.

In Kentridge’s animation, forms are continually changing. It is a world of disguises, secrets and conspiracy. Traces of violence seem to be washed away. The figure of Ubu is transformed into a camera set on a tripod, while the distinctive spiral that Jarry drew onto his belly recurs throughout the film. Documentary footage of security police charging unarmed protestors is combined with Kentridge’s drawings of political suspects being shot, stabbed, hanged, tortured, maimed and thrown off buildings. Rather than simply witnessing, the camera seems to participate in these crimes.

Curated by Kerryn Greenberg and Carly Whitefield


Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG
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