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Preview for the episode “Compassion” from Season 5 (2009) of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series. “Compassion” features three artists—Carrie Mae Weems, Wiliam Kentridge, and Doris Salcedo—whose works explore conscience and the possibility of understanding and reconciling past and present, while exposing injustice and expressing tolerance for others.More information
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Having witnessed first-hand one of the twentieth century’s most contentious struggles—the dissolution of apartheid—William Kentridge brings the ambiguity and subtlety of personal experience to public subjects that are most often framed in narrowly defined terms. Using film, drawing, sculpture, animation, and performance, he transmutes sobering political events into powerful poetic allegories. In a now-signature technique, Kentridge photographs his charcoal drawings and paper collages over time, recording scenes as they evolve.
Doris Salcedo’s understated sculptures and installations embody the silenced lives of the marginalized, from individual victims of violence to the disempowered of the Third World. Although elegiac in tone, her works are not memorials: Salcedo concretizes absence, oppression, and the gap between the disempowered and powerful. While abstract in form and open to interpretation, her works serve as testimonies on behalf of both victims and perpetrators. Her work reflects a close collaboration with a team of architects, engineers, and assistants—and, as Salcedo says, “with the victims of the senseless and brutal acts” to which her work refers.
Carrie Mae Weems’s vibrant explorations of photography, video, and verse breathe new life into traditional narrative forms like social documentary, tableaux, self-portrait, and oral history. Eliciting epic contexts from individually framed moments, Weems debunks racist and sexist labels, examines the relationship between power and aesthetics, and uses personal biography to articulate broader truths. Whether adapting or appropriating archival images, restaging recognizable photographs, or creating altogether new scenes, she traces an essential indirect history of the depiction of African Americans for more than a century.