William Kentridge’s work is deeply political in its innermost inspiration but not in the sense that it is animated by facile ideologies and easy formulas. On the contrary, the most remarkable work in this exhibition is a burlesque yet sinister and disturbing satire on the arbitrary violence of Joseph Stalin’s regime.
Much less does Kentridge indulge in identity politics. Today contemporary art exhibitions are full of work that is supposedly exploring — code for navel-gazing — the artist’s identity as the member of some minority, or preferably of two or more minorities at once.
This is a phenomenon that has arisen in the post-political environment of prosperous developed economies, starting not surprisingly in the William Kentridge: That Which We Do Not Remember Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, until February 3. US. The odd thing is that, for all their wealth, these are not societies that have abolished the gap between rich and poor — in many cases it has grown worse in recent decades — but ones in which the poor are apathetic and the elites and the intelligentsia have abandoned failed utopian visions of equality.
It is above all the university-educated classes who have resorted to identity politics, partly because of a tribal urge for self-definition and differentiation in the bland conformity of contemporary society, and partly because of the need for self-justification through the denial that they are in fact privileged beneficiaries of an unequal system.
So identity politics shifts attention away from the real inequalities between rich and poor and focuses on illusory or exaggerated differ-
William Kentridge’s That which we do not remember (installation view)