Under the state of emergency declared in South Africa from the mid 1980s, armoured military vehicles called Casspirs were deployed to the townships, ostensibly permitting police to open fire at unarmed civilians in order to "keep the peace". A work by William Kentridge titled 'Casspirs full of love' which addresses this issue will be sold at Bonhams next South African art sale on March 20th in London.
The picture is estimated to sell for £140,000-180,000, as part of a twenty-lot special focus on the artist's work in the South African sale.
Casspirs full of love is the title for a group of works including a drawing, an encaustic, a screenprinted banner and a drypoint which Kentridge developed between 1988 and 1989. The various incarnations all feature disembodied heads either dispersed in a landscape or packed into cabinets, resonating with scenes from the 1989 animated film work, Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris.
Casspirs full of love is renowned as one of the artist's most overtly political projects. Best known are the drypoint etchings, printed in two phases (1989 and 2000), which appear in significant international collections such as those of the Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, Johannesburg Art Gallery and Tate London. Bonhams is offering the singular encaustic work from the project, an extremely rare example of this medium in Kentridge's oeuvre.
The title comes from a personal dedication overheard by Kentridge on the popular radio programme "Forces Favourite", sent from a mother to her son in the South African security forces: "This message comes to you from your mom with Casspirs full of love". Kentridge's work captures the tension between the violence employed by the Casspirs and the message of love sent by friends and family to conscripts in the security forces; contradictions inherent in the apartheid state but somehow upheld in daily life. As curator Dan Cameron observes: "It is startling to see Kentridge employ [a Casspir] as a container for human affection, much less the victims of state violence..." This tension is echoed on an aesthetic level through the highly charged, textural surface of the encaustic, contrasted with the loping cursive of the inscription.
Hannah O'Leary Head of the South African Art Department at Bonhams, comments:
"This image is a testament to how much South Africa has changed. It is a work that also transcends South Africa to address the human condition in general."