SUMMARY: Felix, a South African man who lives in exile during apartheid, studies the survey charts of Nandi, a young black woman who maps the history of the barren East Rand landscape.
WHY IT’S HERE: South African artist William Kentridge worked in various mediums including the animated short. Between 1989 and 2003 he produced a series of nine animations under the collective title ‘9 Drawings for Projection’, the most famous of which is ‘Felix in Exile’. It depicts the isolated existence of Felix Teitlebaum, a character who appears throughout the nine films and is depicted as vulnerable to the monstrous acts of apartheid. His existence is contrasted with that of Nandi, a surveyor charting the East Rand landscape who falls victim herself to the devastating effects of apartheid. Using mostly charcoal with the odd splash of pastel colour, Kentridge’s techniques include the reuse of the same piece of paper for many images, which has the effect of leaving traces of what has come before, a highly symbolic thematic notion reflected in the way the East Rand land subsumes people and structures, bearing marks of crimes against humanity. Kentridge’s work is perhaps the best encapsulation on film of the devastation of apartheid and his strangely beautiful images do not detract from the ugliness which they depict. Kentridge said of his own film, “In the same way that there is a human act of dismembering the past there is a natural process in the terrain through erosion, growth, dilapidation that also seeks to blot out events. In South Africa this process has other dimensions. The very term ‘new South Africa’ has within it the idea of a painting over the old, the natural process of dismembering, the naturalization of things new.”