After travelling to various cities across South Africa, the exhibition History will Break your Heart will now be on display in Johannesburg for the first time. Wa Lehulere’s work as an artist emerges out of the tensions between the individual and the forces of history, and the ways in which we make sense of that relationship – whether through the intimate and familiar or through the grand narratives of national and global politics. He has a background in theatre and is also a writer and poet. His practice thus incorporates live performance and its ‘artefacts’ (video footage, photographs, scripts and other records), a feature that was central to his involvement in artist collectives such as Gugulective and the Centre for Historical Reenactments.
History will Break your Heart entails a very different set of collaborations – both with his aunt, Sophia Lehulere (with whom he has produced a series of chalk drawings), and with late artists such as Ernest Mancoba and Gladys Mgudlandla. Mancoba and Mgudlandla are among those, Wa Lehulere observes, who have been marginalised and “written out of history”. Yet they have influenced him and he affirms that including them in the exhibition is “an act of love” – of paying homage.
Prominent installations feature elements that have previously appeared in Wa Lehulere’s work: upturned gumboots, music stands, school desks, porcelain dogs, gold paint. In History will Break your Heart they bring together the personal (members of the artist’s family, his frustrations with educational institutions) and the wider socio-political story (mining, poverty and a history of violent suppression by the South African state).
Throughout, the exhibition is informed by a powerful sense of the debt we owe to our collective and individual pasts – and a desire to continue unearthing the bones and buried treasures that lie there.
Exhibition: History will Break your Heart
Artist: Kemang Wa Lehulere
Venue: Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg
Dates: 15 April to 18 June 2016