About the Artwork

The original Fire Walker is a fragmented, eleven-metre high ‘anti-monument’ created by William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx in response to a commission by the City of Johannesburg in 2010.

Associated with that metropolis’s market culture – a melange of sights, smells, nationalities and generations – it depicts the silhouette of a female street vendor carrying a burning brazier on her head. The usually immigrant, homeless ‘fire walkers’ sell pieces of coal to other market vendors and are among the most impoverished of the city’s urban labourers. As the viewer passes the sculpture, the figure either becomes briefly aligned at an optimum viewing point , or dissolves into dislocated, abstracted shards, as torn as the rags of its original subject’s dress. This shifting quality challenges associations between public sculpture and monumentality and speaks to the itinerant, precarious nature of ‘fire walkers’ lives.

Year: 2009

Copyright the artists, Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery; Photo © Nick Turpin


painted steel


300 x 175 x 204 cm

Artist Biography

William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx

William Kentridge is an internationally South African artist, who works as a draughtsman, painter, sculptor, filmmaker and opera director. Kentridge was born in 1955 in Johannesburg, where he lives and works. Kentridge studied Politics and African Studies at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (1973–76), before a Fine Art degree at Johannesburg Art Foundation (1976–78), which was followed by him studying mime and theatre at Ecole Jacques LeCoq, Paris (1981–82). His practice is multidisciplinary and explores significant social and political issues, weaving complex narratives, often informed by a longstanding interest in theatre, into compelling allegoric layers. Kentridge has participated in a number of international biennials including the Venice Biennale (2005, 1999 and 1993) and Documenta X (1997), XI (2002) and XIII (2012). His work has been exhibited widely throughout the world, including solo presentations at MoMA, New York, the Met, New York, SFMoMA, the Hirschhorn, Washington D.C., the MCA, Chicago, Tate Modern, London, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Louvre Museum, Paris, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, the Pinacoteca, Sao Paulo, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and UCCA, Beijing. The artist will be the subject of a substantial solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London from 21 September 2016 until 15 January 2017 and his production of ‘Lulu’ will be at the English National Opera, London from 9 November to 19 November 2016. . Gerhard Marx is a South African artist who was born in 1976, and lives and works in Cape Town. Marx’s practice is defined by the cutting and assembling of fragments of pre-existing images and structures. Through the destruction and subsequent creation of new figures, Marx’s his questions notions of singularity, fixed constructions and morality in a post-apartheid world. Marx completed his MA (Fine Art) Cum Laude at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (2004). His work was selected for the Venice Biennale in 2013. Other recent international exhibitions include My Joburg at La Maison Rouge, Paris and Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Dresden and The Beautiful Ones, Nolan Judin, Berlin. Marx is a fellow of the Sundance Film Institute, the Annenberg Fund and the Ampersand Foundation.