William Kentridge wins Kyoto Prize

11 November 2010

South African artist William Kentridge has been awarded the 2010 Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy, becoming the first African recipient of Japan’s highest private award for global achievement.

The awards, now in their 26th year, are regarded as Japan’s equivalent of the Nobel awards. Only three prizes are given each year, in the categories of Arts and Philosophy, Advanced Technology, and Basic Sciences.

The prizes honour “significant contributions to the betterment of humankind” and each comes with a cash award of 50-million yen (about R4.2-million).

Kentridge received the award in Kyoto on Wednesday. Speaking to Johannesburg radio station Eye Witness News, he said the year had been remarkable for South Africa as a whole and that this award had made him more proud to be a citizen.

He was given the award for his insights into and reflections on human nature through his art.

“Using a simple technique that he himself calls ‘stone-age filmmaking’ – namely, the laborious process of filming, frame by frame, a series of ceaselessly changing charcoal and pastel drawings – Mr Kentridge has injected the traditional technique of drawing into diverse media, including animation, video projection and stage set design,” reads the Kyoto Prize website.

The judges continue: “In so doing, he has created a new contemporary vehicle of artistic expression within which various media fuse together in multiple ways. Although his works deal with the history and social circumstances of a specific geographic area, they have acquired universality through their deep insights and profound reflections on the nature of human existence.’

It was felt that his work, “full of sharp intelligence and profound poetry”, continues to exert “great influence” on other artists, giving people worldwide “courage and hope that their attempts and practices may still be effective and fundamental, even amid the stagnation of our contemporary society, swirling with political and social unrest”.

The prize was initiated in 1985, given by the non-profit Inamori Foundation, established by Dr Kazuo Inamori, the founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera and KDDI Corporation. Inamori believed that “a human being has no higher calling than to strive for the greater good of society, and that the future of humanity can be assured only when there is a balance between our scientific progress and our spiritual depth”.

So far, the prize has been awarded to 84 people, and one foundation, from 15 different countries. Laureates range from scientists, engineers and researchers to philosophers, painters, architects, sculptors, musicians and film directors. The United States has produced the most number of recipients at 34, followed by Japan with 14, the United Kingdom with 12, and France with eight.

Dr Shinya Yamanaka received the 2010 award for Advanced Technology. He pioneered technology for producing induced pluripotent (iPS) stem cells without the use of embryos.

Dr Laszlo Lovasz received the award for Basic Sciences. He provided a link among numerous branches of the mathematical sciences, making “outstanding contributions to the academic and technological possibilities of the mathematical sciences”.

Source: City of Johannesburg