Telephone Lady and Walking Man are large-scale linocuts created in 2000, around the same time as the film Shadow Procession, which had used articulated black paper figures to make an animation of a long procession of figures moving through a minimal landscape. In the film, the procession trudges through the landscape carrying their worldly possessions – donkeys, carts, bundles, sometimes whole towns. The procession is a recurring motif in Kentridge’s work, appearing in animated films, drawings, collages, prints and an artist book, and relates to the grind of living within a system of sustained violence – Apartheid in South Africa – and more generally to the many states of migration and displacement around the world.
Kentridge’s return to linocut (having last used the medium as a student in the 1970s) in these monumental works is significant. Linocut has historically been the primary form of printmaking in South Africa because linoleum is a very cheap material, the tools are easy to use and a press is not required in order to make an impression on paper. Kentridge also suggests the link between linocut and the various missionaries who brought the technique to South Africa, and a link to the German Expressionists whose style is influenced by African masks. Of his use of the medium, Kentridge has said: It occurred to me that if etching and engraving have to do with the split in northern Europe between the Reformation and other ways of being, then linocutting corresponds to anti-colonialism, certainly in South Africa, to something that comes out of that struggle.