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Based on the biblical story of Daniel and Belshazzar, William Kentridge's masterful film, 'Weighing and Wanting', explores the validity and applicability of Belshazzar's message to the South African post-apartheid problem. The political tensions and climate inherent in Both Belshazzar's case and that of South Africa are compelling but South Africa's appears more striking considering Kentridge's choice of the setting to be immediately after the African National Congress has taken over from apartheid, (Boogs, 8). Cast in an awkward position of the post-apartheid Kentridge's charcoal creation, Soho Eckstein, the main character who is recounting his past glory as an apartheid profiteer, is reminiscing the labor of his hands in the new political dispensation.
The drawings in this film are symbolic. Unlike Daniel in Belshazzar's story who is subjected to the omniscient nature of God, he places Eckstein in world where he faces off with morality, conscience and guilt. Erasing from 14 different charcoal drawings, he successfully makes a compelling personality of Eckstein from stop-animation. The closeness of himself and his artistic works which is revealed through the film's time presents a social constructivist view of a universe as people live, created as subjects go, mould as people speak and staged to each person as the other lives. Yet the captivating motion effect created by the charcoal and the pastel shades depicts the presence of a disembodied touch in the work frame.
The subjects in the drawings of Kentridge's are perfectly designed. The installation of charcoal and gouache and the ultimate transferring of the drawn subjects into the film in the laser disk captures Kantridge's home land greatly and allegorically presents a high voltage relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist and the oppressor versus the oppressed in relation to the post-apartheid era. To note is that Kentridge's depictions are not just restricted to South Africa but the general political nature of the African countries. He confesses, "I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid... I am interested in a political art", (Kentridge, 23). In this depiction he seeks to represent the hope of the oppressed at bay while exposing the brutal nature of the oppression. Set against the illuminating scenario of Johannesburg, that conceals the abject nature of apartheid, Eckstein is made to move across a montage of graphic events torn between banality of suburbia to the tired and depleted mines of Johannesburg. He is portrayed as one defeated by guilt, contemplation and the choice of what is and not moral.
Eckstein is a symbol of the larger human race. His actions and perceptions about himself and life in general do not deviate in any way with those of people in the real world. Every factory owner and major investor will find himself or herself very contemplative of the future of his/her businesses in the wake of a new political era. Eckstein is major beneficiary of the unjust apartheid system. His feels self guilt and is wholly bored about his past actions. He wants to seek for solutions from within himself but his own self-proclaimed lack of virtue pushes him to further doubt his own conscience. In the backdrop of this decimate landscape; he hopes to find moral refuge in an otherwise accusative society, (Boogs, 20).
The naked woman explores the continued negative manner in which females have been regarded in South Africa. When a framed image of a naked (or almost naked) female body hung on the displays of the galleries, the image serves more as reminder of 'male' accomplishment than a weapon against the seriously patriarchal society of the post-apartheid South Africa. Kentridge's film converges, in an entirely different stage compared to the other films, the keen study of the historical customs of the female nakedness and the views of current society where gender bias has been institutionalized. Kentridge's film explored the manner in which 'acceptable' and 'unacceptable' representation of the female body should be produced and maintained in drawings and is the base rock for the conflict-laden debates on high tradition that is seen to undermine all the efforts of gender equality and the equity. The nude female shows that no steps have been taken in ending the nature in which females are regarded as objects of sexual arousal. Feminists have taken upon themselves to challenge the patriarchal male friendly social structure in a bid to place females in the same level with their male counterparts. The post-modernism feminist declaration of "our bodies, ourselves", a clout of women repossessing power over their bodies, maybe be termed as a stepping stone of females in the fight against their inhuman sexual representation in artwork. Females in the real world have been held captive by barriers created by men for selfish purposes. These male precipitated barriers are set upon women through the patriarchal culture that seemingly aims at converting (or even reinstating) a woman as the pleaser of man and a source of sexual desire.
The film shows an angel recoding with a video camera as a black man stubs a white in a drawing. The angel is a symbol of religion and the role it has come to play in politics. The fundamental question to ask here is whether clerics in the post-apartheid South Africa have taken any steps towards healing the society or have become mere watchdogs that only record the turn of events, (Boogs, 48). Religion, as explored by Kentridge, ushers in morality in art. This effect gives the filmt a sense of direction insofar as the role of art in the society is concerned. Religion becomes the yardstick upon which the acceptance of a work of art is measured in terms of what is moral and not. While a few of drawings in the film depict vulgarity as is evident in the manner in which nudity and sexuality is blatantly explored it is through worshipping in all religions of the world that is meaningful to a haunted soul like that of Eckstein.
Economic superiority is protracted as the central force in the power fights in Kentridge's film. Whereas the racial and ideological differences could as well have their toll, it is notable that the Boers of South Africa were perceived to certainly stand strongly than their native black South African counterparts, and their less population underlined their vulnerability. With the ability to meaningful employment and succeed through unjust means like Eckstein, they became targets for anti-apartheid attacks. To the post-apartheid South African society, Eckstein is different and deserves to be caged lest he contaminates the society with his morality madness, capitalistic approach to work and self-guilt. He is so much ostracized for a subscribing to a different way of life that takes a path leading slightly further from the spirit of equality and he is being punished for it. The point that the events surrounding Eckstein that incline him to thinking people around him should be exploited for selfish purposes become the epitome of contradiction between who is insane and who is not, who is moral and who is not and who is right and who is wrong-- though that still remains a matter of rhetorical discourses.
Weighing and wanting is an artistic piece that was used to challenge people on what they wanted and desired to achieve. Even though there was a longing for freedom, it was not yet clear what the people would do with the freedom once they obtained it. The question that came up in the piece was whether the people were equipped enough to handle the liberty that they longed for. South Africa was a nation that was composed of numerous races with each of them claiming a position in leadership. The main problem was that the people did not exactly get to appreciate each other and understand what they would do together. The mother colored people seemed to express their unity against the blacks, yet they were not united amongst themselves to lead the nation to greater heights. It is an artistic piece that demanded people to revisit what they wanted and find out how capable they were to handle it.