Label Text: Shadow silhouettes and sketched figures populate much of William Kentridge's work, including this print from one of his Nose series. The print’s darkened borders and draping lines frame the figures, intentionally referencing the curtains of a theatrical proscenium. The figures and newsprint imagery relate to animations Kentridge designed to project on the set of the Metropolitan Opera’s March 2010 production of The Nose.
The Shostakovich opera (1930) retells the satirical short story (1836) by Nikolai Gogol, in which an overly ambitious Russian bureaucrat wakes to find that his nose has inexplicably left his face and is gallivanting about town dressed as a uniformed gentleman of higher rank than himself! In a confrontation, the nose boldly denies that his proper station is upon the lesser man’s face. In this print, the enlarged (human-sized) nose and a nude male figure posture and strut like overstuffed officers. The backdrop is papered in propaganda, including the profile of a man with censored nose and the caption, “Lying!“ (in Russian).
Kentridge sees parallels between the 19th-century bureaucracy Gogol satirizes, Stalinist Russia of Shostakovich’s time, and the former apartheid system of his own native South Africa. The absurd logic of social hierarchy, government control, injustice, and personal responsibility are important themes for Kentridge. He feels that the problems of the real world are best revealed through the absurd. Gogol chose an absurdist construct—the separation of a man from his own nose—to externalize an internal struggle. The Nose series, like other works by Kentridge, explores the conflict arising within an individual who must conform to the values of an absurd political and social system.