Kemang Wa Lehulere (b. 1984, Cape Town) is an artist who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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 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. 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.