n Image & Text : a Journal for Design - William Kentridge's (1990) as counter-monument and the embodiment of negative aesthetics

Volume 27, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1020-1491



This article analyses the film (1990), created by South African artist William Kentridge. It frames the analysis around James E Young's original ideas of the counter-monument and negative aesthetics. The former is defined as an anti-monument or a memorial that is open-ended, provocative, and subversive. The latter, Young's negative aesthetics, is defined as anti-redemptive art or counterart, that is, a critical aesthetic. This is art that provokes, shocks, and repels, while critically challenging the audience to remember. Arguing for the film and its antihero Harry as both counter-monuments and the embodiment of negative aesthetics, I make a significant contribution to the already established work on William Kentridge by providing a unique reading of his film as a counter-monument.

This article also works as a concept document for interrogating James E Young's counter-monument outside of the context that gave rise to its initial conceptualisation, that is, post-World War II Germany and the Holocaust. In doing so, I also make a contribution to the scholarly debate surrounding counter-monuments; countermemory; and negative aesthetics, by contending that not only Holocaust (non)representations are counter-monumental, but other (counter)artistic responses to historical traumas or catastrophes, such as apartheid, can also be countermonuments, in this case, film.

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