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Kendell Geers

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Kendell Geers

Kendell Geers
Kendell Geers at Haus der Kunst, 2013.
Born Jacobus Hermanus Pieters Geers
Johannesburg, South Africa
Nationality South African
Education Wits, Johannesburg
Known for Conceptual art, installation art
Notable work Akropolis Now

Kendell Geers is a South African conceptual artist.


Kendell Geers was born in Johannesburg as Jacobus Hermanus Pieters Geers into a white working-class Afrikaans family during the time of apartheid.[1] Rejecting everything his family and his community stood for, in 1993 he changed his name to Kendell Geers and his date of birth to May 1968 as a political act, reclaiming his identity.[2] Becoming aware of the political struggles in his country, he ran away from home at the age of 15 to get involved in the anti-apartheid movement. Kendell finished his schooling at the end of 1984. At the beginning of 1985, to avoid conscription, he enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for a Fine Arts degree.[3]

In 1988, Kendell Geers was one of 143 young men who publicly refused to serve in the South African Defence Force and faced either a life in exile or six years' imprisonment in a civilian jail.[4] In 1989 he left South Africa and lived for a brief period in exile in the United Kingdom and New York where he worked as an assistant to artist Richard Prince.[5]

It was only after Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners' release from prison, that Geers could return from exile to Johannesburg without fear of being imprisoned. In 1990, he returned to Johannesburg where he worked as an artist, and art critic, curator and performance artist. The first work of art he created back on South African soil was "Bloody Hell", a ritual washing of his white Afrikaaner Boer body with his own fresh blood.[6] He moved to Brussels in 2000.


Sometimes described as a political artist, Kendell Geers is known best for using a variety of colors and materials that signal danger such as sirens, broken glass, and barbed wire in an attempt to examine power structures, social injustices, and establishment values. Geers has worked with different media ranging from objects to large scale installation, neon works, performances and video. Geers also uses words as a means to explore the coding and reinterpretation of language and its meaning and to communicate with his audience.

Early work

His work had heavily political elements from 1988 to 2000, during which time Geers, explored the moral and ethical contradictions of the apartheid system through his practice.[7] He developed a visual vocabulary characterized by provocation as well as humor by using found objects such as barbed wire or glass shards. By appropriating historical events and ideas, he focused on questions of relationship between individual and society. It was in this context that Geers changed his date of birth to May 1968, the start of the student and civil revolution, and joined every political party in the period before South Africa’s first democratic elections, from the extreme right-wing to the Communist party.[8] In this way, he expressed his doubts about the fetishization of party politics.

He participated in the Venice Biennale in 1993, the first time since the anti-Apartheid boycotts that South African artists had been invited.

From 1999 until 2004, Geers worked as the curator and art consult for Gencor which was later bought out by BHP Billiton. The collection focused on artists and works of art that were central to the Anti-Apartheid Movement spirit.[9] In 1997 Geers edited and published Contemporary South African Art, with essays by Okwui Enwezor, Olu Oguibe, and others.[10]

Initiated by his move to Brussels in 2000, his later European period is characterized by a more poetic aesthetic.[7] Here, Geers transferred his incendiary practice into a post-colonial and increasingly global context, suggesting more universal themes like terrorism, spirituality, and mortality. As such, the artist’s life and work can be said to constitute a living archive composed of political events, photographs, letters, and literary texts that serve as a source of inspiration and represent a continuation of his oeuvre.[11]

In January 2013 a Geers retrospective called "1988-2012" opened at the Haus der Kunst in Munich.[7] The exhibition divided his life and work into two decade-long periods, the first political phase until 2000, and the later more poetic phase.


In 2011 Geers wrote a Manifesto in which through a series of statements, he explores the link between political and natural revolutions, mourns the loss of our talent for revolution and the underlying causes, and gives us clues on how to remember our inner selves to live a more true life.[12]

Side projects

Together with musician Patrick Codenys (Front 242) Kendell Geers formed the Belgium Audio-Visual group "thefucKINGFUCKS" in 2007. The project grew out of the now defunct "Red Snyper" collaboration between Geers and Codenys.


He has exhibited globally since 1993 and participated in numerous exhibitions including Documenta, the Carnegie International, Havana Biennial, Istanbul Biennial, Kwang Ju Biennial, Taipei Biennial, Gwangju Biennale, Lyon Biennial, Glasstress at the Venice Biennale, as well as presented solo exhibitions in the CCA Cincinnati, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst Gent, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art,[13] Aspen Art Museum, MOCA in Rome, Migros Museum, Palais de Tokyo, the CAC in Lyon and Haus der Kunst in Munich. The Divine Comedy. Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists -Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK), Frankfurt/Main, 2014.


  • Argot. Chalkham Hill Press, 1993.
  • Contemporary South African Art. Jonathan Ball Publishers, 1997. ISBN 978-1-86842-039-1.
  • My Tongue in Your Cheek. Dijon: les Presses du réel; Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002. ISBN 2-7118-4374-2.
  • Kendell Geers. Mondadori Electa, 2004. ISBN 88-370-3050-9.
  • "Kendell Geers; The Forest of Suicides." published by MACRO, Museo D'Arte Contemporanea, Roma, 2004. ISBN 883-7-03050-9.
  • Fingered. Imschoot Uitgevers, 2006. ISBN 90-77362-33-9.
  • "Irrespektiv." BOM / Actar, 2007. ISBN 978-84-934879-5-9.
  • "Kendell Geers 1988-2012." Edited by Clive Kellner, Prestel, 2012.
  • "Hand Grenades From My Heart". Edited by Jerome Sans, Blue Kingfisher, Hong Kong, 2012. ISBN 978-988-15064-7-4.


  1. ^ Salon | Artist Talk | Manifesta 9: FIRED UP by Kendell Geers
  2. ^ Nicolas Bourriaud, Kendell Geers: A Proletarian Gnosis, Kendell Geers 1988-2012, Munich, Prestel, 2012.
  3. ^ Warren Siebrits,States of Emergency 1985-1990, "Irrespektiv." BOM / Actar, 2007.
  4. ^ Merret, C., Saunders, C., in Switzer L., Adhikari M., South Africa's Resistance, Ohio University Press, 2000, p. 473.
  5. ^ Clive Kellner, Kendell Geers 1988-2012, Prestel, 2012, p 11
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c
  8. ^
  9. ^ Sue Williamson, South African Art in the Nineties: Part I, II & III, Artthrob
  10. ^ Contemporary South African Art, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 1997, ISBN 978-1-86842-039-1
  11. ^
  12. ^ Critical Arts: A Journal of South-North Cultural and Media Studies 27(6), An Van Dienderen & Kris Rutten, 2013, p. 655-660.
  13. ^

External links

  • Official website
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