Artists 2016

Kemang Wa Lehulere

Kemang Wa Lehulere

Kemang Wa Lehulere

'Teeth are the only bones that show',2016
false teeth made from impression of artist's mouth, washing machine, velvet with embroidery and velvet cushion, dimensions variable
image courtesy of the artist and EVA International



Kemang Wa Lehulere (b. 1984, Cape Town) is an artist who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He graduated with a BA Fine Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in 2011. Wa Lehulere is cofounder of the Gugulective (2006), an artist-led collective based in Cape Town, and is a founding member of the Center for Historical Reenactments in Johannesburg. He was the winner of the inaugural Spier Contemporary Award in 2007, the MTN New Contemporaries Award in 2010, and the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts in 2012. He was the recipient of an Ampersand Foundation residency in New York in 2012, and one of two young artists awarded the 15th Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel in 2013. Most recently, he was awarded the 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art at the National Arts Festival, South Africa. Recent exhibitions include: Sincerely Yours (2015), Gasworks, London; To Whom It May Concern(2015), Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town; 8th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (2014); This Is Not Africa, This Is Us (2014), Galerie West, The Hague; The Circle Walked Casually (2014) Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin; Center for Historical Reenactments: After-After Tears (2013), New Museum for Contemporary Art, New York; Sleep Is for the Gifted (2013), Lombard Freid Gallery, New York; The Ungovernables (2012), New Museum, New York; Air de Lyon (2012), Fundacion Proa, Buenos Aires; A Terrible Beauty Is Born (2011), 11th Biennale de Lyon at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyon, France; and When Your Lips Are My Ears, Our Bodies become Radios(2010), Kunsthalle Bern and Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland.


Kemang Wa Lehulere works in a variety of media, including performance, drawing, installation, text, and photography. He creates events and environments in an attempt to understand South Africa’s past and present. His work engages with the spaces between personal narrative and collective history, between archive and amnesia. The act of digging (for example, for his performance uGuqul’ibhatyi, which took place in Gugulethu township in 2008, he dug a hole in the ground using only an afro comb and discovered bones) becomes a metaphor for the pathology of history, with the artist performing the dual roles of forensic investigator and scientist. Performative gestures of unearthing, discovery, destruction, and erasure are central to his work. Wa Lehulere embraces the open-endedness of his practice, revealing a discursive space between past and present, art and literature, the self and the collective.

Wa Lehulere is also a cofounder of the Gugulective (2006), an artist-led collective based in Cape Town, and is a founding member of the Centre for Historical Reenactment, a Johannesburg-based independent platform that died of institutional suicide on the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012, after two years of existence. Together with Donna Kukama, he cofounded the Johannesburg based NON-NON Collective in 2010.

Teeth are the only bones that show (2016)

Scene 55: A Grave Misunderstanding Interior. Home. Night.

I once mistook odontophobia as a fear of death. Upon reading its meaning twice, I realized it was an unusual fear of teeth. This is curious because an artist once said that ‘teeth are the only bones that show’. Some few years ago, while digging with an afro comb in someone’s backyard in Gugulethu, I discovered bones. Where I grew up people go to a special school to learn how to ‘read’ bones. Once read, these bones are said to reveal the past or even unveil the future.

Wa Lehulere said: ‘On a recent visit to Limerick I dreamt I had discovered infant bones in a large plant pot in an open field. The following day, while en route to the local art school, I was fascinated by the false teeth on sale in the window of a dentist’s office. When I toured the art school, I also learned about its history and the existence of Magdalene laundries that housed “fallen women.”

Wa Lehulere’s new work for EVA International 2016 takes its cue from these discoveries, bringing together material elements that represent these chance encounters and the preceding dream. The work is a sculptural installation that comprises a second-hand washing machine, a set of false teeth (which are made from a mould of the artists teeth), a text written by the artist, and a velvet cloth.




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