IN: Inspiration


No novice to epic installations, William Kentridge stuns again with a 550m frieze along the embankments of the River Tiber in Rome


Using only the stone walls hemming in the Tiber and power-blasting away pollution and growth to bring his vision to fruition, world-renowned South African artist William Kentridge has unveiled his biggest public work to date. Kentridge’s 550m frieze titled “Triumph and Laments” was launched on 21 April 2016. The date is significant as it celebrates the anniversary of the capital’s founding in 753 BC.


To create the breathtaking piece, Kentridge used the pollution and biological growth found along the embankments as his ink. By layering large plastic stencils along the banks of the river, the images were created by power-blasting away years of grime with high-pressure water jets - a technique known as reverse graffiti among street artists.

South African artists have been experimenting with reverse graffiti for some time – a prime example being the stunning pieces created by UrbanLoveZA, including a very touching tribute to late actor Robin Williams.


On the evening of the launch, Kentridge and composer Phillip Miller (a longstanding collaborator) put on a series of live performances with more than 40 musicians that incorporated shadow play. Silhouettes of dancers were cast onto the frieze via spotlights, effectively bringing the extensive mural to life. The frieze, with figures that reach up to 12m high, depicts victories and defeats from the city’s history, including well known legends like Romulus and Remus and more modern heroes such as filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Kentridge was invited to create the public art piece 14 years ago, and funded the project on his own through three galleries with which he works. When asked about the historic moments depicted in the piece he states: “I’m not interested in telling a chronological history of Rome”. The artist would rather have passers-by extrapolate their own meaning and history from the fragments represented along these walls.

Just like the historic figures and moments the frieze depicts, it too will become a part of Roman history as it slowly fades away. Within a few years, new layers of grime will accumulate along the river banks, creating a fresh canvas for the next artist to adorn.

If this thought inspires you, then you needn’t wait years or find a polluted stone structure. Consider finding your nearest stretch of soot-stained concrete, where you can create your own spray paint-free reverse graffiti! You may even want to enter your resulting piece into the PPC Imaginarium…






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