Ubu Tells the Truth: Act V, Scene 4

This highly skilled set of eight etchings represents one element of an unprecedented production of interconnected works in the late 1990s based on Alfred Jarry’s infamous despot character, Ubu Roi. Invited to participate in an exhibition entitled, “Ubu+ 100,” Kentridge produced a whole series of narratives about the character, fitting the iconic villain into a South African context, in etchings, animated films, a series of larger drawings, a theater production by the Handspring Puppet Company, and a multimedia installation work.

Jarry’s farce of 1896, designed for marionettes, caused an uproar in Paris and helped shape the progress of avant-garde theater in the 20th century. As a notorious buffooned, lampooned character, Ubu Roi has provided a versatile figure for artists throughout the century to apply to local histories and personalities. Kentridge splits the Ubu character in two (a similar format to his ongoing narrative feud between Felix and Soho in his other works), suggesting with the different forms a rift between the public and private self.

The artist portrays the ruler as a split personality, the larger buffooned cartoon figure, outlined here in chalk white of the greedy, glutinous king, and a naked male drawn in an illusionistic manner and modeled on the artist’s own form, perhaps representing the alter-ego private self. The dual figures are shown acting out a number of scenes from a play narrative (although not in any particular order), the chalk outline always gregarious and public in nature, the human form often trying to cleanse or distance himself from his other half. Action within the scenes is set against a black wall and upon a roughly hewn wooden stage.

Others from this edition are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Smithsonian National Museum for African Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Art Institute Chicago, and the University of Michigan.

Text curtesy of Sotheby’s Auction House.


Ubu Tells the Truth: Act V, Scene 4

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Artwork Category::

Media & Techniques:

Edition Size:

Image Height:
25 cm

Image Width:
30 cm

Sheet Height:
36 cm

Sheet Width:
50 cm

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