The central focus of the wide-ranging, interdisciplinary work of William Kentridge (b. 1955, Johannesburg, South Africa) is the prolonged effects of colonialism in South Africa, specifically of the apartheid system. Using a diverse range of media, from drawing, performance, and film to opera and other large-scale theatrical productions, Kentridge reanimates painful histories and uncomfortable paradoxes of colonialism—“what we’ve chosen not to remember,” as he says.

The ICA presents the U.S. museum premiere of KABOOM! (2018), a recent major acquisition and room-filling multimedia installation. KABOOM! tells the story of the nearly two million African porters and carriers used by the British, French, and Germans during World War I. Set to a rousing, orchestral score co-composed by Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi, the monumental, three-channel work is projected onto a scale model of the stage from Kentridge’s tour-de-force performance The Head & the Load, which premiered at Tate London before being presented at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. 

Employing his trademark multidisciplinary approach and his recurring trope of the procession, Kentridge builds up dynamic layers of drawings, moving images, and texts projected onto sculptural paper props and found objects to embody the dramatic arc and theatrical intensity of The Head & the Load at gallery scale. The title of The Head & the Load comes from a Ghanaian proverb that reads, “The head and the load are the troubles of the neck,” and the porters in KABOOM! shoulder the physical load transported all across Africa. As the work suggests, they are the ones who ultimately bear the historical legacy of colonialism and war. 

 

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