‘Take your road and travel along’
‘Take your road and travel along’ The advent of the modern black painter in Africa Michael Stevenson
PUBLISHED BY MICHAEL STEVENSON
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‘Take your road and travel along’ Michael Stevenson Joost Bosland Kalifala Sidibé Akinola Lasekan John Mohl Gerard Sekoto Ben Enwonwu George Pemba Sam Ntiro Thomas Mukarobgwa Valerie Desmore Simon Lekgetho Peter Clarke Valente Malangatana Ngwenya Twins Seven-Seven Yusuf Grillo Ephraim Ngatane Welcome Koboka Dumile Feni Ernest Mancoba Uzo Egonu
‘Take your road and travel along’: The advent of the modern black painter in Africa Michael Stevenson
Facing Page Kalifala Sidibé Malian Women (detail) Circa 1929 Oil on linen 69.5 x 66cm
1 Martin and Oguibe, among others, articulate the resonances between Onabolu teaching himself European-style painting by making analytical reconstructions of images from books, newspapers and magazines, and Picasso looking towards African art to break with the traditions of European painting. Marilyn Martin, ‘All encounters produce change: Africa, Picasso and beyond’, Picasso and Africa, Cape Town, 2002, pp151-152; Olu Oguibe, The Culture Game, Minneapolis, 2004, p51 2 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, p564
Kalifala Sidibé’s painting, dating from around 1929, in which a woman seated outside a traditional homestead holds a mirror to her face, reflects a principal interest of modern black artists in twentieth-century sub-Saharan Africa. In their work they portrayed their perceptions of themselves and the life that surrounded them, through the prism of the European painting tradition. Their assimilation of this tradition into an African idiom resulted in a rich genre of work that challenges many prevailing assumptions about modernism, modernity and the conception of the modern artist, and their works are a significant aspect of the ongoing – and often contested – dialogues between the aesthetic traditions of Europe and Africa. It is an interesting synchronicity that the Cubists and German Expressionists discovered traditional African art at a time when the Nigerian artist Aina Onabolu (1882-1963) was painting his first portraits around 1903.1 We are reminded of the complex and entwined relationship between the arts of these two continents by recollections such as that of Ernest Mancoba, who said that when he learnt about European artists’ interest in the arts of Africa, he ‘decided to engage upon a debate with [them], by coming to Europe’.2 In a now lost self-portrait by Sidibé (illustrated overleaf), the artist sits painting at a table outdoors, with a woman in traditional dress standing beside him. This position is unusual because the artists’ visual references in constructing images of themselves were informed by those of the European masters of the past, standing in urbane and self-conscious pose in the studio, recalling a tradition that dates back to Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, published in 1568, with
'Take your road and travel along'
'Take your road and travel along'
Facing Page Kalifala Sidibé
Self-portrait Published in Konstrevy, Stockholm, 1930
its 144 illustrations of these artists. Such a stance is to be seen in George Pemba’s self-portrait painted in 1987 – in which he offers a representation of himself as a dapper artist-gentleman standing beside an easel with paints and brushes at hand – as well as in photographs of the formally attired Pemba, Ben Enwonwu, Gerard Sekoto and Uzo Egonu at work in their studios. Another conventional format is adopted by Sekoto and Simon Lekgetho in their head-and-shoulders self-portraits, gazing directly at the viewer. Sekoto looks back over his shoulder into darkness; ahead is glowing yellow light. He painted this work on the cusp of a momentous time in South Africa’s history and at a watershed moment in his own life when he decided to go into exile in 1947. Lekgetho, in his self-portrait, stares out with an intense expression; looking at himself in a mirror, as he most likely did in order to realise this image, he was surely reflecting, in every sense of the word, on the very notion of a black artist in South Africa in the late 1950s. Sylvester Ogbechie has made the valid point that the prevailing construct of the modern artist was as a white, European, Western male who appropriated the nonWestern (most specifically African) Other in the realisation of his art.3 Sekoto, Enwonwu and their black contemporaries studying and living in Europe, and those residing in Africa, were the antithesis of this in most respects. Can we conceive of the difficulty of creating a sense of self in the long shadow of this entrenched and dominant concept? In their instances, the archetypal, romantic notion of the solitary, struggling and misunderstood modern artist was amplified. As Sekoto recalled:
3 Sylvester Ogbechie, ‘Portrait of the African as a modern artist’, Critical Interventions: Journal of African art history and visual culture, Johannesburg, 2007, pp14-28 4 Barbara Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, Johannesburg, 1988, pp28-29 5 Quoted in N Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’, Johannesburg, 2004, p103 6 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, p572
‘Although Mancoba had given me warnings of the hardships that an artist faces in Paris, I had assured him that since I was not chasing after gold, I could face any difficulties as my aim was to improve my painting. … Generally, all artists coming to Paris do anticipate some difficulties, but none can ever tell ahead of time the difficulties in detail. Many have simply to pack their bags and turn back to their native lands …’4 The title of this exhibition and catalogue, ‘Take your road and travel along’, is taken from a poem by Sekoto,5 and aptly describes the personal, singular journey that each modern black artist from this period had to embark upon. Mancoba, who moved to Paris from South Africa just before the Second World War, drew many parallels between the struggles of an African artist in Europe and those that Van Gogh endured6
'Take your road and travel along'
Facing Page George Pemba Self-portrait (detail) 1987 Oil on board 66 x 49cm
(Sekoto was confined to an asylum in Paris in the late 1940s). Other black artists who went to Europe to study during these years, all of whom would have experienced immense challenges, include Onabolu, who studied at St John’s Wood School in London and the Académie Julian in Paris between 1920 and 1922, before returning to Nigeria; John Mohl, who through the missionary fraternity studied at the Düsseldorf Kunst-Akademie in Germany in the early 1930s before returning to South Africa; Mancoba, who moved to Paris in 1938 to further his art studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs and remained in Europe for the rest of his life; Enwonwu, who was awarded a scholarship in 1944 to study art in London, first at Goldsmiths College and later at the Slade School of Art; Egonu, who went to school in London in 1945 aged 13, later studied art and stayed abroad until his death; and Sam Ntiro, who studied at the Slade in London between 1952 and 1955. Aside from the South African painter Valerie Desmore, who moved to London in 1946 to study at the Slade, there is a conspicuous absence of any women artists in these exchanges, a reminder that the modern black artist in Africa was essentially male.7 The critic Jean Bouret, in his nostalgic recollections of Sekoto’s early days in Paris, reminds us of the circumstances that many of these artists endured:
7 Occasionally the names of women artists are encountered but this is rare. For instance, Etso Ugbodaga Ngu, born in Nigeria, trained as a painter in Britain from 195055, and was the only Nigerian teacher at Zaria initially. Other female Nigerian artists of the 1950s include Ladi Kwali and Afi Ekon. See Paul Chike Dike, and Patricia Oyelola (eds), Nku din a mba: Uche Okeke and modern Nigerian art, Lagos, 2003, p37. The only woman artist whose work is well researched is the self-taught South African Gladys Mgudlandlu who came to the fore in the 1960s. 8 N Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’, Johannesburg, 2004, p68
‘Do you remember the evening when we were at the Rhumerie, and where you were asking yourself if you were going to continue to paint, because it is truly hard to paint in Paris, when one has the worries of daily living and one is obliged to work during the night; no gallery supports you, one isn’t in a group, and, in addition, one is black and not even coming from that part of Africa which was previously French.’8 The sacrifices and challenges of retaining creative integrity under alienating circumstances were made harder by the fact that the pioneers living in Europe were straddling two worlds, caught between their desires to be simultaneously home and away. In his autobiography, the South African writer Es’kia Mphahlele posed rhetorical questions about this divided existence to Sekoto, but could have been speaking to any of the black artists who chose to study and settle in Europe: ‘You always wanted to go back to Africa in those days. But not South Africa, not our deep south. When I said wouldn’t it be better for your painting you said, yes.
'Take your road and travel along'
'Take your road and travel along'
Gerard Sekoto, painter, ca 1937, Johannesburg, South Africa Photograph by Constance Stuart Larrabee, between 1936-1949 EEPA 1998-006 (P8) Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
This Page George Pemba discussing his work with a friend in his studio in 1955 Photograph previously published in Hayden Proud (ed), George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba: Retrospective exhibition, Cape Town, 1996, courtesy of Drum Publications, Baileyâ€™s African History Archives
'Take your road and travel along'
Facing Page Gerard Sekoto Self-portrait (detail) 1947 Oil on canvas board 45.7 x 35.6cm
But something in those soft eyes told me you were a little afraid. Perhaps plain scared. You had been so long in Paris, you said, but not in so many words. I knew you weren’t lonely any longer. You could handle Parisian life. Fourteen years, since 1948, you had been through a baptism of fire. Why not settle in Africa? I asked, when you were fighting so hard, bleeding so much, just for a group exhibition? The galleries, you said, belonged to a select group: what was a black painter worth in a European city gutted with artists?’9 However, for the young black artist the decision to remain at home in Africa and pursue a career as an artist was no easier. The conflict between remaining in Africa and advancing the concept of art in the face of resistance, or going abroad to advance one’s own art education in relative freedom, was a real dilemma. Mohl argued with Sekoto about the latter’s desire to leave the land of his birth because, in Mohl’s view, ‘South Africa or Africa needs artists badly … to paint our people, our life, our way of living, not speaking in the spirit of apartheid or submission ... But [Sekoto] would never listen to that as an argument.’10 Sekoto’s response reminds us of the universal desire of artists for a realm where they are free to realise their creative impulses: ‘I must get to Paris. I must get to France where a man is free, where a man finds freedom.’11 Mancoba advanced a similar argument in leaving for Paris: ‘I soon understood [that in South Africa] I would never be able to feel free enough, in my mind, to express myself as fully as I wished, but would always knock the head against the barriers which the colonial order had set up in my country …’12
9 Es’kia Mphahlele, ‘Paris in the 1960s’ (from Autobiography, 1984) in Clementine Deliss, Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, London, 1995, p255 10 Interview with John Mohl in Tim Couzens, The New African: A study of the life and work of HIE Dhlomo, Johannesburg, 1985, p252 11 N Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’, Johannesburg, 2004, p53 12 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, p563 13 Ibid, p564
Their dilemma was further complicated by debates about following the path of art as opposed to committing to the struggle for independence from colonial powers. Each artist had to decide for him or herself how compatible or mutually exclusive these two positions could be. Mancoba recalled that some of his political friends told him artistic activity was not the most urgent thing to concentrate on while black people were undergoing such a terrible plight, but: ‘I believed, on the contrary, that art was precisely also a means to favour a greater consciousness in Man, which, for me, is part of the struggle for any human liberation, and without which any practical achievement would probably, sooner or later, deviate and miss its point.’13
'Take your road and travel along'
The difficulties experienced by young black artists in the 1930s through to the 1950s are brought into relief by considering the comparative experiences of young white artists in South Africa. There were numerous art schools, albeit mostly conservative in sensibility, where they could study, and, until the late 1950s, most young white artists continued their studies in London or Paris.14 For these artists, studying in Europe constituted further advancement, whereas the young black artists travelled abroad in search of the basic art education that apartheid and colonialism forbade. For the aspirant black artist, not only were educational opportunities in Africa severely limited, but there was also almost no financial support for their endeavours. HIE Dhlomo, the first major black playwright in South Africa and a prominent journalist on issues of black arts and culture, wrote in 1944 of Pemba: ‘Like other frustrated African men of talent, Mr Pemba bewails the time and energy which perforce he has spent and still spends on drudgery (miscalled work) which dissipates his power as an artist.’15 For Sekoto in Paris, the problems that limited his creativity and productivity were complicated by his alienation and his alcoholism (a problem also present in Pemba’s life). Sekoto talked of the ‘barrier of shutters that I could not penetrate’ as well as his ‘obligation to play the piano every night for a living and then my drinking till the late hours, followed by the return to that drab hotel room with its restraining rules and therefore failing to get into my work as had been planned’.16 Issues of patronage and support were at the heart of survival for this generation of black artists. Although this is a concern for most artists at the outset of their careers, in their case the situation was more complex because almost anyone who could offer support was European, and often closely associated with the colonial administration. A recollection by a former student of Margaret Trowell, who founded the art school in Uganda in 1937, reminds us of this stifling hierarchy of power: ‘Trowell had particular gifts which we did not have … in the set up of African politics, current at the time. She had all the instruments of approaching even Sir Henry Moore – could we? What language did we have that could deal with those diehard colonialists?’17 Aside from some by South African artists, almost all the works in this catalogue were acquired in Britain and Europe over the past fifteen years, which strongly suggests they were originally purchased from exhibitions such as those at the Piccadilly Gallery in London or by colonials and expatriates in Africa.18 Ntiro, writing in 1963,
14 See Lucy Alexander, Emma Bedford and Evelyn Cohen, Paris and South African Artists, Cape Town, 1988 15 ‘Busy-Bee’, Ilanga Lase Natal, 11 November 1944, quoted by Tim Couzens, The New African: A study of the life and work of HIE Dhlomo, Johannesburg, 1985, pp250-251 16 Barbara Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, Johannesburg, 1988, p33 17 Interview with Gregory Maloba, 2001, quoted in George Kyeyune, Art in Uganda in the Twentieth Century, unpublished thesis, SOAS, 2003, p101 18 The bulk of the pan-African works have been collected by Michael Graham-Stewart in Britain and Europe over the past fifteen years. The first work should be a painting by Onabolu, but Graham-Stewart has never seen one on the open market and the whereabouts of his oeuvre is a mystery. The work by Sidibé included here is one of only two to have been published in recent years (the other was illustrated in the Hayward Gallery exhibition catalogue Undercover Surrealism: Georges Bataille and Documents, London, 2006). Perhaps his signature in Arabic has contributed to his works going astray; hopefully over time other examples will be rediscovered. Consequently, this exhibition cannot be a representative survey but is rather an overview of the crosscurrents and counterpoints of modernist aesthetics in subSaharan Africa in this period. It further considers the field opened up by Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa in 1995 and The Short Century in 2001; with time, as more research is conducted in this field, and »
'Take your road and travel along'
made the astonishing statement that in East Africa not a single artist managed to live on his work as a painter or sculptor. ‘What normally happens is that an art teacher earns his living by teaching and producing his own work in his spare time. The East African public is not yet prepared to spend a lot of money on a work of art. If an East African artist is going to live on his work he has got to convince the public that they ought to buy it.’19 Twins Seven-Seven, who came out of the Oshogbo workshops in Nigeria in the 1960s, recalled: ‘Up to 1970 we depended almost entirely on Europeans to buy our paintings. But since then … Nigerians now spend more money on my work than expatriates.’20 The protagonist of the Oshogbo workshops, the German-born Ulli Beier, expressly intended that the work of these artists should be understood by their communities because: ‘The ‘intellectual, university-trained Nigerian artist is chiefly concerned with establishing a new identity, with gathering the broken pieces of a tradition and building them … into a new kind of collage in which the African Renaissance is proclaimed. His problem is that … he establishes his newly gained identity in the art galleries of Europe more often than in the villages of Nigeria.’21 Enwonwu lamented similarly in 1956 that the success of modern black artists was almost entirely dependent on Europeans who judged, promoted and guided the reception of their work: » essential monographs and other exhibitions are curated, other neglected narratives will surely come to the fore. 19 Sam Ntiro, ‘East African art’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 111 (5082), May 1963, pp480-1 20 Twins Seven-Seven, A Dreaming Life: An autobiography of Chief Twins SevenSeven, Bayreuth, 1999, p60 21 Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, London, 1968, p109 22 Ben Enwonwu, ‘Problems of the African artist today’, Présence Africaine, 8-10, June-Nov 1956, pp174-178
‘While Europeans are the best judges of their own art, and no one argues about this fact, the African does not even have a chance to play an equally important part in judging his art, let alone his justifiable claim if he chooses to make one, that he is the best judge of his own art.’22 In South Africa there were very few black collectors, but a small group of mostly liberal, often Jewish collectors provided support for Sekoto and his contemporaries. Mohl reflected on this situation and, idealistically, sought to shift perceptions of painting among black people at the time: ‘I wanted the world to realise that black people are human beings and that among them good workers can be found, good artists, and in addition to that I wanted to lecture indirectly or directly to my people of the importance of this type of
'Take your road and travel along'
Facing Page Simon Lekgetho Self Portrait (detail) Circa 1960 Oil on paper 35 x 43cm
thing, which of course to them is just a thing. You see there is no difference to them, I mean the ordinary African, between a photograph and a picture. It shouldn’t be terribly expensive and if you say a painting is about one hundred rand they get shocked and say, “What do you mean? What are you selling? Are you selling ten oxen or ten cows?” You see now, I wanted to teach them that this thing is of great importance.’23 As Mohl’s quote illustrates, the artistic pursuits of the modern black painters were generally not understood by their communities. Even Ntiro, when he arrived at the Margaret Trowell School of Art in 1944, asked Trowell ‘why grown men should waste their time doing such things as painting because, as every one knew, real pictures came out of machines’.24 It was with great difficulty, and often as a result of intervention by a European, that the dedicated studio and materials of a professional artist could be secured. As Graham Young, the chairperson of the non-European Adult Education Committee of the Johannesburg City Council in 1949, insightfully remarked – in response to the question of why so few African artists had come to the fore in South Africa since Sekoto – ‘You might be able to join choirs and sing in the Native townships, but can you imagine sitting down in a small dark room with a family of five or six and trying to teach yourself to draw or paint?’25
23 Interview with Mohl in Tim Couzens, The New African: A study of the life and work of HIE Dhlomo, Johannesburg, 1985, pp250-251 24 Quoted by George Kyeyune, Art in Uganda in the Twentieth Century, unpublished thesis, SOAS, 2003, p98 25 The Star, Johannesburg, 1949, quoted by Elza Miles, Polly Street: The story of an African art centre, Johannesburg, 2004, p16 26 ‘Take your road …’ chooses to focus on painting rather than sculpture even though some of the artists, including Enwonwu and Thomas Mukarobgwa, were sculptors as well as painters.
This situation slowly changed in the later years of colonialism and in the immediate post-colonial years when the first African art schools and workshops were established to teach painting, rather than crafts, and consequently the first movements or collectives of artists who shared similar visions evolved. There remained many hardships but, for the later generations, the experience was no longer as solitary and alienating as had been the case for the pioneers – Onabolu, Sidibé, Mancoba, Sekoto, Enwonwu, Pemba and Mohl, among others. Prior to discussing the initiatives in the 1950s and 1960s that encouraged black artists across sub-Saharan Africa to study art in their home countries, it is worth reflecting on some of the debates around modernism, Africa and the relationship between the two in a field of art history that remains hopelessly under-researched. ‘Take your road and travel along’ is not a survey exhibition of the history of modern painters in Africa.26 The narrative offered here focuses on black artists in
'Take your road and travel along'
sub-Saharan Africa. As Olu Oguibe has rightly observed, ‘earlier practitioners of modern art exist in the Maghreb and Egypt, and strains of modernism are discernable in the art of white South Africans from earlier than Onabolu’.27 However, the art and life histories of the artists on this exhibition overlap and intertwine in particular ways. In the colonial situation where their options were severely limited, they experienced a pull from the metropolis for similar reasons. Once they had established themselves in a European setting, they faced comparable prejudices of race and class. Those who remained behind battled against colonial expectations regarding the notion of a modern black artist. But they all shared a desire to come to terms with an approach to art that found its roots far from where they were born. Artists such as Gazbia Sirry in Egypt, and Maggie Laubser, Irma Stern and later Walter Battiss and Alexis Preller in South Africa formed part of the history of painting and modernism in Africa but their circumstances were significantly different and their lives and works pose very different sets of questions. It makes critical and visual sense to compare the art and experiences of the South African pioneers with those of their sub-Saharan contemporaries – something that has rarely been done, aside from in The Short Century: Independence and liberation movements in Africa, 1945-1994.28 In many instances these artists met personally, although the isolation wrought by apartheid and later the cultural boycott separated their parallel experiences. One of the first artists Sekoto encountered on his arrival in London was Enwonwu and they sustained a long friendship. Sekoto’s warm response to viewing Enwonwu’s bronze of HM Queen Elizabeth in 1956-7 offers us an insight into this friendship: ‘Congratulations for this very important and great work of art. Do believe me Ben that I am one of those very many people who share with you the pride that your great talent has earned you. I can very well understand the uneasiness that you experienced during the first days of this most important execution. Happily the results are worthy of the strain you have endured.’29 Many of the artists met at the First Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris in 1956, the Second Congress in Rome in 1959 (the poster for which was designed by Sekoto), and the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres in Dakar in 196630 (after which Sekoto remained in Senegal for a year).
27 Olu Oguibe, The Culture Game, Minneapolis, 2004, p7 28 Okwui Enwezor, The Short Century: Independence and liberation movements in Africa, 1945-1994, Munich, 2001 29 N Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’, Johannesburg, 2004, p55 30 See Léopold Sédar Senghor, ‘The role and significance of the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres’ in Clementine Deliss (ed), Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, London, 1995, p224
'Take your road and travel along'
The division between sub-Saharan countries and northern African and Arabic countries is often artificial; however, the distance between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa is greater – in all senses – than between Europe and the North African countries. The countries surrounding the Mediterranean, despite their radically different cultures, had interacted for centuries, and their patterns of colonisation and independence also differed from those further south. In the exceptional case of Egypt, which attained independence in 1922, an art school opened in 1908, the collection of the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art was initiated in 1927 and numerous art societies were founded in the 1920s to 1940s,31 decades prior to similar institutions evolving for African artists in sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, Islamic reservations about figurative representation in some respects also limited the exchanges in these regions with the traditions of European painting and modernism. The rich calligraphic tradition did find contemporary expression in the so-called Khartoum School, led by Ibrahim El Salahi, at a time when the international style of abstraction prevailed in the late 1950s and 1960s, but this region is outside the realm of this discussion, and also under-researched.32
31 Museum of Egyptian Modern Art 2005, Cairo, 2005, pp249-330 32 A forthcoming retrospective of the work of El Salahi, curated by Salah Hassan and Laurie Farrell for the Museum for African Art in New York, will no doubt change this. 33 Joseph-Aurélien Cornet, Remi de Cnodder, Ivan Dierickx and Wim Toebosch, 60 Ans de Peinture au Zaire, Brussels, 1989 34 Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, London, 1968, p50 35 Elizabeth Harney, In Senghor’s Shadow: Art, politics and the avant-garde in Senegal, 1960-1995, Durham, NC, 2004
It is interesting to note that most of the modern black artists from the sub-Saharan region came from British colonies. It is puzzling why so few artists emerged, prior to the mid-1950s, from the French, Belgian, Portuguese and former German colonies. For instance, there does not appear to be a single black artist from the Congo who studied art in Europe or assimilated the tenets of modernism in his own country in the colonial period.33 Beier suggests with reference to the French-speaking colonies that ‘the visual arts were never found to be as congenial a medium of expression as literature’.34 Understanding these complex circumstances is a subject worthy of extensive research. One instance of such is Elizabeth Harney’s In Senghor’s Shadow which is one of the most narrowly defined and insightful studies of modern art in Africa.35 She clearly illustrates why so little art in the idiom discussed here emerged from Senegal by tracking the development of a negritude-reliant theory of art conceived in a rigorous government framework which operated as a proxy for state ideology. Léopold Sédar Senghor’s prescribed philosophy of art – a synthesis of Western modern art and African forms – did not differ significantly from propositions made elsewhere by, for example, the Zaria Art Society in Nigeria or by Mancoba, Enwonwu or certain white South African painters such as Stern, Battiss and Preller. However, Senghor’s philosophy of art was enforced top-down, and has more affinity with forms
'Take your road and travel along'
'Take your road and travel along'
Facing Page Ben Enwonwu in his London studio in 1948 Photograph first published in the West African Review, August 1948
36 Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, Contemporary African Art, London, 1999 37 Charles Harrison, ‘Modernism’ in Robert S Nelson and Richard Shiff, Critical Terms for Art History (Second Edition), Chicago, 2003, p188 38 Onabolu has been amusingly described as having a ‘strong desire to dehydrate Europeans’ misty concept of an African and his ability to develop on his own’. Ola Oloidi, ‘Constraints on the growth and development of modern Nigerian art in the colonial period’, Nigerian Journal of the Humanities, 5-6, 1989, pp29-51 39 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, p563
of state-sponsored art such as socialist realism in the Soviet Union than with modern art in the individualist, intellectual sense, as exemplified by the engagement with aesthetics by painters in places such as Nigeria and South Africa. As contested as the way Africa is approached is the term ‘modern’, and placing the two concepts side by side creates further debate. The terms ‘modern’, ‘modernity’, ‘modernism’ and its capitalised version, ‘Modernism’, are used in confusing and often confused manner across the spectrum of history and, more specifically, art history. In the case of Africa, this is exacerbated by a lack of disciplinary conventions due to the recent nature of the debates. In the broadest use of ‘modern’ in the context of African art, it refers to all African cultural production that in some way engages with modernity. One example of a scholar who takes this approach is Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, who, as a result, covers the widest possible range of artistic expression in her book, Contemporary African Art.36 (It is revealing that ‘modernism’ and ‘modernity’ are one shared entry in its index.) Use of the term ‘modern’ in ‘Take your road …’, however, is much narrower, and reflects an engagement with European notions of the artist on the part of these African painters. By contrast, those artists who worked in initiatives galvanised by missionaries and other catalysts to encourage painting in a so-called primitive style, ‘uncorrupted’ by Western influences, arguably perceived their identity as an artist in different ways. This is not to say that artists who were the products of such schools did not, in their own way, engage with modernity. However, their intentions and artistic practices differed significantly from those artists who painted in a manner based on an awareness of European art history, and who engaged on their own terms with the artworld, and the world at large. The art historian Charles Harrison sums up this debate succinctly when he writes: ‘There are few terms upon which the weight of implication, of innuendo, and of aspiration bears down so heavily as it now does upon modernism.’37 One only has to think of Onabolu’s determination to disprove colonial expectations and disbelief in relation to black artists to realise how aspiration lies embedded in a modern approach to art.38 Other examples further illustrate this point. Mancoba recalled that he could never be considered an artist in the South Africa of the early 1930s, where the Commissioner for Native Affairs wished him ‘to develop a whole indigenous art trade by selling all sorts of pseudo-tribal figures for tourists’.39 Enwonwu, in his
'Take your road and travel along'
contribution to the catalogue of the seminal Festac ’77 exhibition in Nigeria, is more philosophic and categorical: ‘The terms African negro art, African traditional art, primitive art, tribal art, and all such aesthetic clichés which have become the currency of aesthetic evaluations of the works of African art, must now be reconsidered in the light of the present Africa view. These clichés … should now be regarded as part and parcel of the evangelical, educational, social, economic, and even the political chapters of the colonial past; because art in present-day Africa is seeking a new role, and this role that must be given to it by the Africans themselves, will determine the form that it should take as the mirror of the aspirations of independent African peoples.’40 Enwonwu’s reference to the symbolism of the mirror in discussing modern African art reminds us of the mirror at the focal point of Sidibé’s painting, and its use by the painters of self-portraits illustrated in this catalogue. It also recalls Okwui Enwezor’s contention in The Short Century that the ‘production of self-awareness’41 is central to the development of modern art on the continent. What comes to the fore in this exhibition is the self-conscious notion of the modern artist, rather than the formal and stylistic attributes of modernism. Simon Njami, writing in the catalogue of El Tiempo de África, takes a similar approach; in his essay, ‘Inventing the artist’, he focuses on the ‘appearance of the western notion of the artist in Africa’.42 Loosely characterised, this refers to the artist who sees himself in individualistic terms, and models his approach to artmaking on previous artists who defined themselves in a similar way. An early exchange between Mancoba and Sekoto illustrates how this notion of the artist played a pivotal role in their search for self-definition: ‘I remember how my friend Gerard Sekoto, in our younger days, was fascinated when I showed him reproductions of pictures by Van Gogh, and how touched he was – to the point of being inspired by it in his own work –when I told him the story of this Dutch painter’s life, while we stood in the middle of the bush, near a distant country village in a tribal zone of the northern Transvaal.’43 In terms of the stylistic and thematic concerns of modernism as advocated by the Cubists and other movements, the only artist among the pioneers who could be regarded as a modernist, in the strictest sense of the word, is Mancoba. His deep
40 Ben Enwonwu, ‘African view of art’ in Festac ’77, London and Lagos, 1977, p52 (emphasis added) 41 Okwui Enwezor, The Short Century: Independence and liberation movements in Africa, 1945-1994, Munich, 2001, p10 42 Simon Njami, ‘Inventing the artist’ in El Tiempo de África, Las Palmas, 2000, p281 43 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, p572
'Take your road and travel along'
affinity with abstraction and his close association with the Cobra movement set him apart from his African contemporaries. As he recollected, ‘before me there had never been, to my knowledge, any black man taking part in the visual arts “avant-garde” of the Western world’.44 Almost all the first modern black artists were drawn to the genres of daily life and portraiture and only rarely painted a still life or an abstract image that was a meditation on form and colour, or a landscape that did not have a significant figurative element. They perhaps shared the position of Chinua Achebe, who declared, ‘Art for art’s sake is a piece of deodorised dog shit.’45 Even so, these artists still had to overcome strong prevailing ideas of what constituted appropriate subject matter for a modern black painter. Most Europeans desired work that was rural in subject matter and slightly naïve in style and conception, rather than work that reflected awareness of urban realities or of academic, international and cosmopolitan trends. In an article on Mohl written in 1943, the artist recalled an instance when he was ‘approached by a white admirer and advised not to concentrate on landscape painting but to paint figures of his people in poverty and misery. Landscape, he was advised, had become a field where Europeans had specialized and they had advanced very far in perfecting its painting. In a humble voice and manner humbler still, he smilingly replied: “But I am an African and when God made Africa, He also created beautiful landscapes for Africans to admire and paint.”’46 44 Mancoba also mentions Wilfredo Lam but points out that he was Creole and from an independent country, Cuba. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, p568 45 Chinua Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day, London, 1975, p19 46 ‘John Mohl: Outstanding African landscape painter’, Bantu World, 9 October 1943, quoted by Tim Couzens, The New African: A study of the life and work of HIE Dhlomo, Johannesburg, 1985, p254 47 Catalogue for solo exhibition: Sam Ntiro: Living in Tanzania, Nexus Gallery, New Orleans, LA, 1977
An artist such as Ntiro, despite his Slade education, was content to focus on painting everyday rural life in a style that flattened perspective and simplified forms. His solo exhibition in 1977 in New Orleans, Louisiana, was titled Living in Tanzania, and in the foreword to the exhibition catalogue his works are described as follows: ‘Painted with disarming simplicity, these compositions are poetic documents of what it means to share the joy of living in Tanzania. Cutting the branches of recently felled trees, picking coffee beans in the sunset, stalking game in the forest – even enjoying beer in the circle of friendship – all of these activities are caught up in the acknowledgement of a masterful drama of neighborliness that occurs everyday, from sunrise to sunset.’47 By contrast, Pemba and Sekoto sought to convey the harsh contemporary realities of life under apartheid. Sekoto was described in 1949 in an editorial in a black South
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Facing Page Uzo Egonu in his studio, 1964 Photograph: Stewart Bale Courtesy of Grosvenor Gallery, London
48 ‘Gerard Sekoto’, Inkundla ya Bantu, quoted by Tim Couzens, The New African: A study of the life and work of HIE Dhlomo, Johannesburg, 1985, p251 (emphasis added) 49 ‘Busy-Bee’, Ilanga Lase Natal, 11 November 1944, quoted by Tim Couzens, The New African: A study of the life and work of HIE Dhlomo, Johannesburg, 1985, pp250-251 50 There is also a work by Skunder Boghossian in MoMA, acquired in 1965, but his work falls out of the ambit of this catalogue. In Bernice Kelly (comp) and Janet L Stanley (ed), Nigerian Artists: A who’s who and bibliography, London, 1993, pp462468, it is mentioned that there is a work by Twins Seven-Seven in the MoMA collection but the museum’s registrar finds no evidence of it.
African newspaper as ‘most responsive to the progressive influences in Western art’: ‘This has not driven him to the false position where, to make a living, he has had to pander to the vulgar tastes of some of those who patronize art in this country. He has consistently refused to see the African as a picturesque creature.’48 Dhlomo wrote in 1944 of Pemba: ‘He believes that in our tribal form of life lie subjects for great art. But he also believes that an artist must be well-versed in the political, social and economical problems of the contemporary African scene so that he can express the feelings, aspirations and will of the people.’49 A revealing insight into international perceptions of the work of the modern black artists lies in the fact that almost none of them are represented in prominent international museums of twentieth century art. The one institution that did acquire some works is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which owns four paintings by Thomas Mukarobgwa and one by Ntiro, all purchased in the early 1960s. Interestingly, the works of Mukarobgwa and Ntiro do not display any conceptual or stylistic engagement with modernism, yet artists such as Sekoto, Enwonwu and Mancoba, among others who integrated elements of modernism into their work, are not represented. In recent years MoMA has increased its holdings of Latin American modernism and perhaps an expanded view of modernism in Africa will follow.50 As mentioned, the very limited opportunities for education in art schools and museums in both pre- and immediate post-independence Africa played an integral part in shaping the conception of the modern black artist. These opportunities ranged from informal workshops that advocated a naïve or primitive style and looked solely to indigenous mythology and design for inspiration through to university education that promoted a synthesis of European and international art with an African sensibility. There were obviously many variants in-between, and these schools and initiatives were to provide formative experiences in meeting or frustrating the aspirations of black artists. But the prevailing assumption – correct, in the absence of other options – that education and training in Europe were superior ensured that artists and other professionals had to travel abroad to realise their ambitions, whether they then remained in Europe or returned to Africa with their skills. As Wole Soyinka observed in his memoirs of his childhood in west Nigeria, ‘there were shops and storey-buildings. And there were inscriptions everywhere: AKINS PHOTO STUDIO: LONDON TRAINED PORTRAITIST’.
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A page later he describes how they ‘came to another sign … MRS T BANJOKO. LONDON-TRAINED SEWING MISTRESS …’51 In addition, opportunities for aspirant black modern painters to see European art (and African art) in subSaharan Africa, except in some South African cities, were almost non-existent, requiring that they travel abroad. Enwonwu made the pertinent point that, ‘while Europe can be proud to possess some of the very best sculptures from Africa among museums and private collectors, Africa can only be given the poorest examples of English art particularly, and the second-rate of other works of art from Europe’.52 Initially the only opportunities on offer for art education in sub-Saharan Africa were instigated by missionaries, and the emphasis at first tended to be on acquiring skills to produce crafts.53 Some of the workshops that followed in the 1940s and 1950s advocated a pictorial approach but tended to focus on rendering nature and tribal life in a naïve and decorative style.54 Dhlomo wrote in 1947 about this ‘insidious doctrine’ that African artists must remain ‘natural’ and that training and education would spoil their traditional aesthetic sensibility. His opinion would have reflected the views of any of the black artists who sought to engage with European painting traditions. Ironically, as he pointed out, ‘The protagonists of this pernicious doctrine are the so-called friends of the African.’55 One of the first, rare initiatives at tertiary level were the art classes offered by Margaret Trowell, the wife of a British surgeon, at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, from 1937, and attended by students from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The emphasis was on the technical skills of painting and printmaking rather than the theory and history of European art. Even though this initiative was a significant development at a university in sub-Saharan Africa,56 Trowell’s approach was grounded in a belief that artists should engage with Christianity and indigenous mythology in their imagery: ‘There has always been controversy among art critics as to the value of art and religion, but I believe that beauty as well as goodness and truth is the servant of true religion and that the value of a work of art is determined by the artist’s attitudes and motives … I do believe that if the plastic arts in East Africa had been the servants either of the old religious cults or of Christianity they would have had a deeper significance in African life.’57
51 Wole Soyinka, Aké: The years of childhood, New York, 1989, pp38-40 52 Ben Enwonwu, ‘Problems of the African artist today’, Présence Africaine, Paris, 8-10, June-Nov 1956, pp174-178 53 See Michael Stevenson and Michael Graham-Stewart, ‘Both curious and valuable’: African art from late 19-century south-east Africa, Cape Town, 2005, on the impact of missionaries and other collectors on the production of crafts. 54 Such projects include the Cyrene Mission in present-day Zimbabwe in the 1940s and 1950s (see Anton Ehrenzweig, ‘The African schoolboy art of Cyrene’, The Studio, 148 (738), Sept 1954, pp80-83 and Elizabeth Randles, ‘Mission art in Zimbabwe’, Legacies of Stone: Zimbabwe past and present, Tervuren, 1997, pp7183); and the initiatives of Pierre Romain-Desfosses, whose Atelier d’Art, ‘Le Hangar’, was founded in Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi) in 1953, and Pierre Lods in Potopoto, a suburb of Brazzaville (see Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, pp219-221) 55 ‘Busy-Bee’, Ilanga Lase Natal, 9 August 1947, quoted by Tim Couzens, The New African: A study of the life and work of HIE Dhlomo, Johannesburg, 1985, pp250-251 56 In 1949 a three-year diploma course for art teachers was initiated and in 1953 a four-year diploma in fine art was formalised. 57 KM Trowell, ‘Modern African art in East Africa’, Man, January, Ireland, 1947, 47, pp1-7
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58 Clementine Deliss (ed), Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, London, 1995, pp280-282, 291 59 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, p562 60 Ola Oloidi, ‘Constraints on the growth and development of modern Nigerian art in the colonial period’, Nigerian Journal of the Humanities, 5-6, 1989, pp29-51 61 C Krydz Ikwuemesi (ed ), The Triumph of a Vision: An anthology on Uche Okeke and modern art in Nigeria, Lagos, 2003, p180 62 ‘Extracts from Uche Okeke’s diary 1957-1961’, Paul Chike Dike and Pat Oyelola, The Zaria Art Society: A new consciousness, Lagos, 1998, pp270289 63 Paul Chike Dike and Pat Oyelola, The Zaria Art Society: A new consciousness, Lagos, 1998, p17 64 Chika Okeke, ‘The Quest: From Zaria to Nsukka’ in Clementine Deliss (ed), Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, London, 1995, p47 65 The Zaria artists strongly opposed Enwonwu because of his affinity with European art history as well as his ongoing success in securing public commissions. This struggle between the ‘establishment’, epitomised by Enwonwu, and the young guard represented by Okeke is in some senses ironic because they shared many sentiments about the modern artist in Africa. When one reads Enwonwu’s contention that: ‘The preservation and continuity of the characteristic quality of African Art depends largely on how modern African artists can borrow the techniques of the West without copying European art,’ it becomes clear that jostling »
By contrast, Trowell’s successor, Cecil Todd, between 1958 and 1971, strongly advocated an African modernism informed by world art history and theoretical perspectives.58 This led him to dismiss Ntiro whose views on art remained rooted in Trowell’s romantic and colonial notion of modern African art. Surprisingly few artists who studied at Makerere rose to any prominence outside East Africa, aside from Ntiro, perhaps because the region is acutely sensitive to the market forces of the safari industry. The thousands of tourists who seek to have their preconceptions of Africa reaffirmed, rather than challenged, in the art they buy as souvenirs arguably conditioned the approach of generations of artists. In South Africa, Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape and Grace Dieu in Pietersburg provided Pemba, Mancoba and Sekoto with diplomas in teaching at school level. However, no college or university offered black students an art education; as Mancoba recalled of his subsequent studies at Fort Hare: ‘I did not study art – there was no such thing. My subjects were English, history, mathematics, psychology and biology. And like many black students then, I was also thinking of becoming a journalist.’59 Mohl’s founding of an art school in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, in 1944 provided black artists with their first opportunity for art instruction, albeit in an informal manner. In West Africa, Onabolu, on his return to Nigeria from Europe in 1922, strongly advocated including art in the school curriculum.60 He succeeded in coercing a British pedagogue, Kenneth Murray, to develop art education in Nigeria in the years from 1927. Murray promoted an approach that emphasised indigenous traditions but took cognisance of changing circumstances and did not simply advocate replicating historical traditions. He was convinced that modern Nigerian art should derive from the ‘virtues of African life, and not from an ability to do things like Europeans’.61 At university level, the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria established an art school in the early 1950s, but it was only when a group of vocal and ambitious students formed the Zaria Art Society in October 195862 that the institution achieved prominence. This was arguably the first black artistic movement in sub-Saharan Africa. It comprised 11 students63 and was led by Uche Okeke until it disbanded in 1961 when they graduated. Okeke has been called the ‘ideologue of the Zaria Art Society’,64 and he led the debates and provocations, coinciding with Nigeria’s independence in 1960, and in opposition to Enwonwu’s prominence in Nigerian art.65 They advocated a Nigerian modern art founded on ‘Natural Synthesis’,
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Facing Page Valente Malangatana Ngwenya The Farewell (detail) 1961 Oil on canvas 44 x 45cm
» for prominence, rather than theoretical concerns, was at the heart of the contentions. Enwonwu quoted in Pat Oyelola, Everyman’s Guide to Nigerian Art, Lagos, 1976, p85 66 Uche Okeke, ‘Natural Synthesis: Art Society, Zaria, October 1960’ in Art in Development: A Nigerian perspective, LeClair Grier Lambert (ed), Nigeria and Minneapolis, 1982, p2. See Bruce Onabrakpeya on Natural Synthesis in Clementine Deliss (ed), Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, London, 1995, pp195-196 67 Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, London, 1968, p59
an objective interaction with the artists’ own cultures, along with interacting with Western methods and materials. Okeke’s call to arms encapsulates their sentiments: ‘Young artists in a new nation, that is what we are! We must grow with the new Nigeria and work to satisfy her traditional love for art or perish with our colonial past. Our new nation places huge responsibilities upon men and women in all walks of life and places much heavier burden on the shoulders of contemporary artists. I have strong belief that with deification of our very beings to the cause of art and with hard work, we shall finally triumph. But the triumph is not near, for it demands great change of mind and attitude toward cultural and social problems that beset our entire continent today. The very fabric of our social life is deeply affected by this inevitable change. Therefore, the great work of building up new art culture for a new society in the second half of this century must be tackled by us in a very realistic manner.’66 In strong contrast to the formal academic approach to education advocated by both Enwonwu and members of the Zaria Art Society were the workshops initiated by Ulli Beier, Susanne Wenger and Georgina Beier at Oshogbo in south-west Nigeria in the mid-1960s. The Oshogbo workshops, along with the initiatives in Zimbabwe led by Frank McEwen, and the Polly Street Art Centre in Johannesburg, expressly did not offer artists a formal academic training. However, their approaches were not as patronising as was the case in the colonial era, and generally advocated some synthesis of European and African visual traditions. Beier was perhaps the most vocal in his antipathy towards a formal art education for the modern black artist. He wondered: ‘Is it necessary for every modern African artist to travel along the long road of alienation and assimilation in foreign-type schools and colleges, burdening himself with knowledge and ideas that will eventually prove to be irrelevant? Must all African artists go through this process and then rediscover the values of their own artist heritage? Is the academic world the only possible gateway to contemporary art? Or are there ways of tapping the vast resources of talent that have remained latent since the slow disintegration of traditional society.’67 In Beier’s view, they sought to produce a community of artists at Oshogbo that could develop along many different lines and whose primary activities could be directed
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towards the community itself rather than to the fluctuating, transient tourist market or the commercialised art world of Europe or America. The manner in which he uses the term ‘self-conscious’ clearly reveals his position: ‘The artists … did receive considerable stimulus from outside, but unlike some rather more self-consciously “African” artists they remained integrated members of their own society and their work feeds on local life and ideas, even if some of it has acquired universal significance.’68 The most prominent and successful artist to emerge from these workshops was Twins Seven-Seven, and his art and opinions are at the core of the entire initiative. His figurative style, inspired by Yoruba mythology, displays almost no acknowledgement of the European tradition of painting, and is perhaps more closely related to the tradition of so-called outsider artists; however, his persona, as portrayed in his autobiography,69 reflects many of the characteristics of the archetypal modern artist. Yet, in the debate around academic and formal training, he concurred with Beier in denouncing a formal education: ‘Nowadays we see many artists trained in the universities. But I think they are more imitating other people’s work…. what is the point of a teacher teaching you, and he makes you look at Picasso’s work? I don’t think that’s the way it should be. An artist should be given the freedom to work. I was never able to accept instructions from anybody in my life.’70 McEwen’s initiatives in Harare were also structured around workshops but, in strong contrast to Beier, he advocated exposing artists to European modernism. McEwen studied painting in Paris in the late 1920s and came to know the leading artists, dealers, collectors and critics of the time. He established himself as a reviewer and curator in the years prior to moving in 1956 to Salisbury (now Harare) – then a parochial and conservative colonial outpost. In his position as director of the Rhodesian National Gallery he ambitiously secured travelling exhibitions of work by Picasso and Moore for the gallery. McEwen was also drawn to theories of the collective unconscious and the primitive, articulated by Carl Jung and Henri Focillon, and in his teachings he sought to connect his African students with archetypal and atavistic African forms and mythology. He encouraged them to study
68 Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, London, 1968, p164 69 Twins Seven-Seven, A Dreaming Life: An autobiography of Chief Twins SevenSeven, Bayreuth, 1999 70 Ibid, p32
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the traditional African art that influenced the German Expressionists and artists such as Picasso and Moore rather than advocating modernist works as a primary reference. He was not opposed to an academic approach for its references to modernism but rather because this form of education, to his mind, destroyed the individuality of an art student: ‘The Universal Art School had spread its arms with the touch of neutrality and sameness … [and] art schools most frequently destroy art by smothering it at birth. Other destructive features are not only the out-dated curriculum and the obligatory hours of presence but the fact that any person with a degree of manual skill, whether creative or not, can remain in an art school and dilute and distort its collective atmosphere while promoting the general plagiary. In the Workshop School, on the contrary, the artist seeks seclusion. They work in their separate cubicles in which they jealously protect their own aura, or they work in the bush under their own favourite tree. They have no curriculum and no obligatory hours of presence. They come and go when they can or wish to do – when their moods are right.’71 The workshops he founded at the Rhodesian National Gallery in the late 1950s initially emphasised painting, and the only artist to come to prominence from the workshops, Mukarobgwa, painted in a style that McEwen termed ‘Afro-German Expressionism’.72 McEwen’s friendship with Alfred Barr, the former director of MoMA, brought the latter to Zimbabwe for a conference in 1962, and it was presumably through this relationship that Mukarobgwa’s paintings entered MoMA’s collection in 1963. McEwen soon shifted the emphasis of the workshops from painting to sculpture with the desire to connect the artists to the Great Zimbabwe tradition, and the well-known Shona soapstone sculpture movement developed as a result of his encouragement and critical support.73 71 Frank McEwen, ‘Return to origins: New directions for African arts’, African Arts, 1(2), p88 72 Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, Contemporary African Art, London, 1999, p71 73 Ibid, pp68-77
The most substantial, enduring and influential workshop initiative in sub-Saharan Africa was the Polly Street Art Centre in Johannesburg. It was founded in 1949 as an idealistic arts initiative funded by the Johannesburg City Council, and was led by Cecil Skotnes (from 1952 until 1965) and Sydney Kumalo (who was his assistant from 1957 until 1964). The integral role played by Kumalo and later Ezrom Legae at the centre diluted the patronising paternalism that usually accompanied such
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workshop initiatives. It succeeded, against odds, in providing opportunities for black artists to develop as professionals – through exhibitions in prominent commercial galleries and commissions from churches and corporations – even though it did not offer students a formal and academic art education. Skotnes had been educated at the University of the Witwatersrand between 1947 and 1950, but he was not a theorist who advocated a particular modernist or other credo.74 His style of teaching was conversational and focused around a weekly workshop where he emphasised technical concerns and studio work. Training was centred on water-based painting on paper and clay modelling because these materials were inexpensive. As the artist Louis Maqhubela recalled, the centre: ‘was not a regular art school with professional courses. One might add that due to the meagre grant from the Council, R400 pa for a student membership in the region of 40, the facilities were very basic indeed. We had to make do with powder paints akin to what one finds in kindergartens.’75 But from this teaching, many of the artists shifted in their later work to oil painting, wood carving and bronze casting. Skotnes introduced students to the work of European artists as well as traditional African art from Central and West Africa, and soon realised that although the students were black, their urban upbringing removed them from any exposure to traditional African art from the south. On the first exhibition in 1960 where the accomplishments of these artists were celebrated,76 Skotnes prophetically wrote: ‘This circle of leading young professional artists can be considered the foundation of what may one day be a major contributing factor to the development of art in South Africa.’77 He proved correct: in the 1960s artists from this initiative won major awards and prizes in South Africa and represented the country at biennales in Venice, São Paulo and Valparaiso. By the late 1960s the idealism that accompanied the independence of the nation states, starting with Ghana’s independence in 1957, and which informed many of these initiatives in art education, rapidly started to dissipate. The assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and its destructive repercussions; the Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) in Rhodesia in 1965 and the consequent war of liberation; the military coup in Nigeria in 1966 and the Biafran war of 1967-1970; the intensification of apartheid in South Africa in the 1960s following the Sharpeville riots in 1961
74 Elizabeth Rankin, ‘Teaching and learning: Skotnes at Polly Street’ in Frieda Harmsen (ed), Cecil Skotnes, Cape Town, 1996, pp65-81 75 Ibid, p69 76 In November 1960, after the move to the Jubilee Centre in Eloff Street in central Johannesburg, the Polly Street Art Centre held a seminal show entitled Exhibition of Non-European Paintings and Sculptures at the Queens Hall Gallery in Johannesburg. 77 Elza Miles, Polly Street: The story of an African art centre, Johannesburg, 2004, p80
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and the Soweto uprising in 1976; the coup d’état that brought Idi Amin to power in Uganda in 1971; the revolution accompanying the collapse of Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign in 1974; and the revolutions in Mozambique and Angola in the mid-1970s and these countries’ later civil wars, all tempered the sense of optimism and accentuated apprehensions about post-colonial Africa. The traumas of post-colonial society ultimately undermined the creative initiatives. McEwen’s activities were dissipated by the Rhodesian white minority government’s UDI, which resulted in Britain cutting all ties with the country, and the prolonged war of liberation that followed. The Biafran war in Nigeria fractured the activities of workshops such as Oshogbo; the revolution in Mozambique in 1975 hampered the creative work of artists such as Malangatana; and Amin’s antics in Uganda suffocated the teaching of art at Makerere University. At the Polly Street Art Centre in Johannesburg, after various staff changes in the 1960s,78 encroaching apartheid legislation forced the centre to move away from the city, which was now reserved for whites only, to Molofo Park in Soweto. The state of the townships in the years leading up to the Soweto riots in 1976 slowly eroded the role of this seminal initiative. Since then, artists who want to participate actively in the debates of international art practice have continued to leave Africa, like the early pioneers in the colonial period, and join the diaspora. One thinks today of artists such as Julie Mehretu, Wangechi Mutu, Meschac Gaba, Barthélémy Toguo, Pascale Marthine Tayou and the South Africans Marlene Dumas, Candice Breitz, Kendell Geers, Moshekwa Langa and Robin Rhode, among others, who have left Africa to pursue artistic careers in Europe or the United States. The reality is that in sub-Saharan Africa – to a lesser extent in South Africa – there are very few teachers, collectors, curators, dealers, critics, galleries and other elements of the art world infrastructure integral to sustaining a creative practice. Those artists who remain in Africa are often subjected to the views of collectors and curators who regard the influence of Western art traditions as a corruption of authentic African aesthetic sensibilities, ironically recalling the attitudes of missionaries and patronising colonials. 78 Kumalo was replaced by Ezrom Legae, and Skotnes was replaced by Bill Hart. Legae, in turn, resigned in 1969 and was replaced by Dan Rakgoathe.
This anti-intellectual stance is most clearly to be seen in the prominent Pigozzi collection which has toured widely as an expansive representation of contemporary African art. As the authors of a book based on the collection write:
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‘Many artists formed in the schools of art, where they acquired a solid background in modern art of the West … produce work that all too often stays well within the realm of that tradition. … For them, the field of art basically remains confined to technical issues and begs the more fundamental question of the purpose of that technique. Such recourse to these characteristic styles and techniques of the Western modern art inevitably favours a hybridization … Unhappily, such a fuzzy aesthetic in which confusion reigns, which refuses to strike out in unknown territory, runs the risk of being fatal to art.’ 79
Facing Page Peter Clarke
A Great Artist 1996-2004 Mixed media 50 x 35cm
This sounds remarkably like first reactions to the work of Sekoto, Mancoba and Enwonwu, among others, in the 1940s. But a painting by Chéri Samba, an artist at the core of the Pigozzi collection, shown at the Venice Biennale in 2007, reminds us that the conception of a modern or contemporary artist remains a complex one, whatever curators, collectors and the art world choose to think. In this selfportrait, Samba seats himself on a stool surrounded by works by his favourite artists – Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Picasso, Barnett Newman, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – illustrating that dialogue between artists in Africa and the world continues in spite of political instability and the prejudices of the West. Similarly, the Cape Town-based Peter Clarke, as part of his recent Fanfare series of collage fans, made works celebrating Paul Gauguin, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Matisse, Kurt Schwitters, Miró, Mark Rothko, Piet Mondriaan, Alberto Burri and Georges Adéagbo.80 That the exchange of imaginations from different regions and realms continues today would no doubt give great pleasure to the first modern black painters.
79 André Magnin and Jacques Soulillou, Contemporary Art of Africa, London, 1996, pp8-15 80 Michael Stevenson (ed), Peter Clarke: Fanfare, Cape Town, 2004
Kalifala Sidibé Mali Circa 1900 – 1930
Kalifala Sidibé was self-taught and lived in the village of Kankan in Mali. His improvised studio and working method were described by Gorges Huisman: ‘When he commences a painting, he hunches down outside his hut at a rickety table put together with rough planks. An old calendar serves as a drawing board and surface. He puts the board under the canvas and makes paints, always starting from the left. Sidibé composes his large canvases in sections without ever making a sketch or under drawing.’1 It is not known who discovered his work and encouraged him to exhibit in Europe but he showed at prominent galleries in 1929 to 19312 and received notices in leading art journals.3 The modernist architect Le Corbusier (1888–1965) wrote a note on Sidibé’s work that appears in the catalogues of exhibitions at both Galerie Alfred Flechtheim and Gummenssons Konsthall, in which he – like most European writers – was at a loss to explain the origin and conception of Sidibé’s work and drew many references to other painting traditions: ‘This Negro gives me the impression [of] belonging to some race, which through Arabia, seems to have been in contact with Persians and Hindus. I even believe that in the olden days India belonged to the Negro. This painter is loaded with Asian characteristics, expressed partly though the tone of his poetry, partly though his style as a painter.’4 Le Corbusier saw his work as transcending conventional classifications of art. In his view Sidibé combined well-proportioned drawn and coloured forms to create paintings that could be described as neither modern nor ancient. ‘It seems he is responding to distant truths that are over the heads of all the academies.’5 Other
1 Kalifala Sidibé, Gummensons Konsthall, Stockholm, 1930 2 His first show was as part of a group exhibition in Paris at the prestigious Galerie Georges Bernheim in November 1929, and in 1930 he exhibited 42 paintings at Gummesons Konsthall in Stockholm; the same year, 20 paintings were shown at the Neue Gallerie, Vienna, and in 1931, after his death, 30 paintings were exhibited at Galerie Alfred Flechtheim in Berlin. 3 He is listed in Benezit: ‘SIDIBÉ (Kalifala), peintre de race noire, mort au Soudan en 1930 (Ec Fr) A organisé une exposition collective à Paris en 1929.’ 4 Kalifala Sidibé, Gummensons Konsthall, Stockholm, 1930 5 Ibid
reviewers also positively acknowledged his work. Huisman wrote that ‘this modest man has introduced a completely new element to the contemporary world of painting’.6 Wolfgang Born effused: ‘His production stands in remarkable opposition to that which we already know as the art of the “peoples of nature”… [He is] a natural talent whose impact transcends racial and national borders.’7 However, there were also strong racist remarks embedded in many of the notices, a reminder of the prejudice that the first black artists in Europe experienced. One reviewer described the exhibition of Sidibé’s work in Europe as ‘a war cry from a savage in the middle of an elegant and eloquent discussion’.8 Many simplistically identified his naïve and primitivist figuration – loosely recalling that of Henri Rousseau – with the innocence of Africans untainted by Western values: ‘Negro paints with simplicity, simply because his soul is innocent and pure … He paints without thought to copy anyone or to make an opposing statement against the tendencies of someone else. He entertains with a wonderful game of his own making. Painting is for him nothing but a means to bring the joy of life to his day. In the way that his fellow tribesmen dance and sing, he sings with colour and paint.9 6 Kalifala Sidibé, Gummensons Konsthall, Stockholm, 1930 7 Wolfgang Born, ‘Der Negermaler Kalifala Sidibé’, Österreichische Kunst: Monatshefte Für Bildende Kunst, April 1930, pp39-40 8 A reviewer ‘HR’ in Konstrevy, Stockholm, 1930, p119 9 Kalifala Sidibé, Gummensons Konsthall, Stockholm, 1930 10 Beaux-Arts, November 1929 11 Kalifala Sidibé, Gummensons Konsthall, Stockholm, 1930 12 The notice read: ‘the [French] Sudanese painter whose first exhibition last year provoked so much curiosity and enthusiasm, died recently in [French] Sudan’ (which later became Mali). BeauxArts, 20 December 1930
A review of Sidibé’s exhibition at Galerie Georges Bernheim in Beaux-Arts magazine in November 1929 gave the opinion that, although the rarity and talent of this painter had perhaps been over-emphasised, his work nonetheless had real merit in terms of his skill of execution as well as the naïve and playful conception of his images. In the reviewer’s condescending view, ‘If the black painter has really discovered this degree of technique by himself, he truly is, in his way, a sort of genius.’10 Few of Sidibé’s works are known to survive from his exhibitions. As he signed his name in Arabic, it is likely his works have gone unrecognised. But also, his life was short and he produced only a small body of work. He was described as about thirty years of age in 1930,11 and a brief note in Beaux-Arts in December 1930 carried the news of his death.12 Selected Bibliography Kalifala Sidibé, Gummensons Konsthall, Stockholm, 1930 (unpaginated exhibition brochure) Wolfgang Born, ‘Der Negermaler Kalifala Sidibé’, Österreichische Kunst: Monatshefte Für Bildende Kunst, April 1930, pp39-40
Malian Women Circa 1929 Oil on linen 69.5 x 66cm Signed bottom centre Provenance Christieâ€™s, London, c1990; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson Illustrated Michael Graham-Stewart, About Strange Lands and People, London, 2001, no 26
Akinola Lasekan Nigeria 1916 – 1972
Akinola Lasekan was born of Yoruba parentage in Owo, now in Ondo State, Nigeria.1 His artistic skills were recognised at school and he stayed on to teach art, becoming familiar with the initiatives of Kenneth Murray and Aina Onabolu. In 1933, based on his submissions to a national art competition, he was selected to study in Europe. However, the government did not fulfil its promise; Akinola settled in Lagos and by 1936 he was working as an artist with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) bookshop. Through the assistance of Onabolu and art tuition by correspondence arranged by the CMS, he started producing illustrations, cartoons and nature studies – a practical reality in a country with limited opportunities for artists. When he finally set out to study in London (along with fellow artist Justus Akeredolu), his stay was brief because he considered the standards to be inadequate. As Sylvester Ogbechie relates: ‘Lasekan visited London from November 1945 to January 1946, intending to study there. Lasekan (and Justus Akeredolu …) enrolled at Hammersmith School of Art but stayed only two days before cancelling their registration. They decided the curriculum was far below their skills as professional artists.’2 Lasekan’s impact on the development of modern African art is noteworthy even though his work does not radically break in style from the tradition of academic realism. He was one of the first Nigerians to move away from the conventions of salon portraiture, as practised by Onabolu, in his portraits of people in traditional dress and scenes from rural life and Yoruba mythology. He was also a mentor and teacher to younger artists including Uche Okeke, who was among the students he taught through correspondence classes. Lasekan is best known as the first West African political cartoonist and published
1 He was born SA Oladetimi and changed his name in 1941. 2 Sylvester Ogbechie, email correspondence
editorial cartoons almost every day from 1944 (the year of this painting) through to the early 1960s, most famously for the anti-colonial newspaper, Western African Pilot. It would appear that he had only one solo exhibition in his lifetime: at the Goethe Institute in Lagos for a week in August 1968. However, the Harmon Foundation supported his work and it was included in numerous group shows in the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Thirty paintings bought from the artist by the foundation are now in the Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia. There are also fourteen of his works in the Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee.
Selected Bibliography Clementine Deliss, Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, London, 1995, p194 Bernice Kelly (comp) and Janet L Stanley (ed), Nigerian Artists: A who’s who and bibliography, London 1993, pp270-272 Akinola Lasekan, ‘Problems of contemporary African artists’, Kurio Africana: Journal of art and criticism, 1:1, 1989, pp24-33 [reprinted from an unstated earlier source] Tejumola Olaniyan, ‘Cartooning Nigerian anticolonial nationalism’ in Paul Landau and D Kaspin (eds), Images and Empires: Visuality in colonial and post-colonial Africa, Berkeley, 2002, pp124-140
Dancers 1944 Watercolour on paper 43 x 61cm Signed and dated bottom left â€˜Akinola Lasekan, Lagos, 1944â€™ Provenance Private collection, Bristol, c1990; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson Illustrated Michael Graham-Stewart, Far Away and Long Ago, London, 2000, no 8
John Mohl South Africa 1903 â€“ 1985
John Koenakeefe Mohl was born at Dinokana near Zeerust in 1903, and as a child, living in this rural landscape, he sketched compulsively. At school in Mafeking his work came to the notice of a missionary who arranged for him to attend college in Vryburg and art classes in Luderitz in Namibia. Through the missionary fraternity he also studied at the DĂźsseldorf Kunst-Akademie in Germany in the early 1930s, which would appear to make him the first black South African artist to study art abroad. On his return he settled in Sophiatown; he established an art school there in 1944 and sustained it until the suburb was demolished, after which he moved to Dube in Soweto and later Rockville. He died in Johannesburg in 1985 at the age of 82. After returning from Germany, Mohl sent twelve works to the Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg in 1936; he had a solo exhibition in Bloemfontein in 1941 and another with the Transvaal Art Society in Johannesburg in 1943. Between 1946 and 1959 he was commissioned by the Tribal Administration of Bechuanaland to record scenes of historical importance to the Bechuanas, and painted a series of seminal works. A rare early work, Dilapidated Cottage, Lady Selborne Native Township, Pretoria, TVL was painted in 1942, when Mohl was 39. During this decade he produced some of his most astonishing work (including, for instance, These Grew out of an Ashpit, in the collection of Johannesburg Art Gallery). This quiet observation of daily life is set against the sky at dawn or dusk with bands of soft blue and pink clouds. A woman returns to the dilapidated hut carrying firewood, and feathery trails of smoke waft out of the chimneys. Mohl was one of the first black artists, along with Gerard Sekoto, to paint using oils, and here he has imbued an ordinary scene with a lyrical aesthetic. The two later works, Bushveld Fire, with Blackbirds Consuming Insects, W Tvll and The Moon behind the Miners, Crown Mines (SA), are from the 1960s when Mohl often quirkily
dated his works ‘in the 20th century’. His style evolved from the realism of the early paintings to an aesthetic in which he distorted scale, flattened perspective and simplified his palette. He painted scenes of rural life and nature – such as this bushfire – as well as daily life in the city of Johannesburg with its long commutes and work on the mines. He continued to favour painting scenes at dawn or dusk or in the moonlight – liminal and reflective times for the imagination.
Selected Bibliography Elza Miles, Land and Lives: A story of early black artists, Johannesburg, 1997, pp57-62
Dilapidated Cottage, Lady Selborne Native Township, Pretoria, TVL 1942 Oil on board 50 x 60cm Signed and dated bottom left â€˜JK Mohl 1942â€™ and signed and inscribed with the title on the reverse Provenance Welz & Co, Johannesburg, 27 March 2006 (330); Michael Stevenson
The Moon behind the Miners, Crown Mines (SA) Circa 1965 Oil on masonite 43 x 59cm Signed bottom right â€˜J Koenakeefe Mohl in the 20th centuryâ€™ and signed and inscribed with the title on the reverse Provenance Johannesburg art market, 2007; Johans Borman
Bushveld Fire, with Blackbirds Consuming Insects, W Tvll Circa 1969 Oil on canvas board 54 x 75cm Signed bottom left â€˜J Koenakeefe Mohl in the 20th centuryâ€™ and signed and inscribed with the title on the reverse Provenance Warren Siebrits, Johannesburg, 2006; Michael Stevenson
Gerard Sekoto South Africa 1913 – 1993
Gerard Sekoto was educated at first by his father, who was a Christian mission school teacher, and later at a mission boarding school. Like Ernest Mancoba, he obtained a teacher’s certificate and in 1937 both Sekoto and Mancoba were teaching at Grace Dieu Anglican School near Pietersburg. Mancoba convinced Sekoto to fulfil his desire to be an artist, and affirmation came with the award of second prize in an art competition at the University of Fort Hare (South African Native College) in 1938 (George Pemba won first prize that year, and Mancoba won the prize in 1935). In 1939 Sekoto resigned from his position as a teacher to pursue a life as a painter. He moved to Johannesburg where he met Joan Ginsberg of the Gainsborough Gallery, who encouraged his endeavours and exhibited his work from 1939 until he left South Africa at the end of 1947. Sekoto had considered travelling to Europe for some time prior to his departure. By 1946 he felt that he had advanced his studies as far as possible in South Africa. He approached the Bantu Welfare Trust for funding but it was not able to assist, and he ultimately relied on the proceeds of the sales of two exhibitions in 1947, one in Johannesburg, another in Pretoria, to pay for his travels. He bade farewell to his family and friends in Eastwood, Pretoria, in late September, and sailed from Cape Town on the Carnarvon Castle on 27 September 1947. He arrived in London approximately two weeks later. He articulated his reasons for leaving – and never returning – differently over time. His remarks to fellow artist John Mohl at the time of his departure revolve around liberty, both as a person and as an artist: ‘I must get to Paris. I must get to France where a man is free, where a man finds freedom.’1 He also said that his ‘intention was to work for a couple of years, make a rapid tour of Europe and return to Paris to digest the tour. Later, I wanted to make a slower tour through certain African
1 N Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’, Johannesburg, 2004, p53
countries and then come back again to France to make a synthesis of my personal feelings and then finally settle in one part of Africa.’2 Later in life he admitted that ‘Leaving South Africa ... I never really had any intention of going back. With that racism, I would not like to go through it again.’3 However, he was sensitive to how this might be interpreted by people in South Africa, as he told a journalist in 1961: ‘In the first place I explained that (the reason) why I did not go back to visit South Africa was for fear that the government might refuse me the exit. I also explained that I came to Paris to assimilate, not to become a Parisian, but to take what I can and give what I can, the aim being to break up screens that isolate nations from one another. For this Paris is ideal, and my country, most unfortunately, the direct opposite, but since it is where I have my spiritual base, and it is where my creative sense of truth remains it would do a lot of harm to my artistic personality and would also be most discouraging to the people who I am part of and are struggling for liberty to hear me say “I have no intention of returning to South Africa …”’4
Selected Bibliography Barbara Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, Johannesburg, 1988 N Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’, Johannesburg, 2004 Gerard Sekoto, My Life and Work, Johannesburg, 1995 Lesley Spiro, Gerard Sekoto: Unsevered ties, Johannesburg, 1989
2 N Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’, Johannesburg, 2004, p54 3 Ibid, p53 4 Ibid, p108
Three Men Walking Circa 1940 Watercolour and gouache on paper 31 x 24.5cm Signed bottom right â€˜G Sekotoâ€™ Provenance Welz & Co, Johannesburg, 20 October 2003 (292); Private collection, 2007; Johans Borman
The Waiting Room Circa 1940 24.5 x 34.5cm Watercolour and gouache on paper Signed bottom left â€˜G Sekotoâ€™ Provenance Mrs P Zimerman; Warren Siebrits, 2005; Private collection, Cape Town, 2007; Johans Borman Illustrated Barbara Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, Johannesburg, 1998, pp94-95
Going Home Circa 1940 Watercolour and gouache on paper 25 x 35cm Signed bottom left â€˜G Sekotoâ€™ Provenance Welz & Co, Johannesburg, 6 November 1989 (362); Warren Siebrits, 2005; Private collection, Cape Town, 2007; Johans Borman Illustrated Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art, Watercolours and Works on Paper, March 2005
Street Musician in District Six In Barbara Lindop’s biography of Sekoto, he recalls the subject of this painting: ‘During my stay in Cape Town it happened that somehow out of that notorious District Six, there arose a most fascinating and spectacular street musician. He was a tall, slender, limping young man of about twenty years of age, slightly hunchbacked, wearing a flat old hat. He groaned out loud in a husky voice on a one-note tone, accompanied by his empty tins which he handled easily under his arm to hit it with the other hand to a rhythm of a guitar. His tin had a hole meant for two purposes: to enhance the sound and also to allow in a drop of a coin from an appreciative listener. Like all the spectators I enjoyed the sight of his artistic performance, yet felt a certain tragic chord striking deep within me, although I would express in my painting only what the eye could see, while leaving the rest to the judgement of human conscience.’1 His recollection cited in N Chabani Manganyi’s biography is slightly different: ‘There was a chap who was limping. He would hit an empty tin while yelling and howling. But he was very amusing in the face. The face was harmonising with his movements. He was tall, with thin legs. He would move for a while beating the tin while howling and yelling. All of a sudden he would stop, make a surprising movement, an expected dance, a strange movement. He was making his living that way. People put money in his tin. What pleased me was that he was having a good time. He was an artist. He was true and real.’2
Street Musician in District Six Circa 1942 Oil on canvas 61 x 50.5cm Signed bottom left ‘G Sekoto’ Provenance Ashbey’s Galleries, 1969; Private collection, Johannesburg, 2004; Johans Borman Illustrated N Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’, Johannesburg, 2004, pp116-117
1 Barbara Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, Johannesburg, 1988, p24 2 N Chabani Manganyi, Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’, Johannesburg, 2004, p39
Self-Portrait This is the earliest known self-portrait by Sekoto and is dated 14 October 1947, within days of his arrival in London after a two-week voyage on the Carnarvon Castle, which had departed from Cape Town on 27 September 1947. In this work, on the threshold of his life in exile, Sekoto looks back over his shoulder into darkness, while ahead of him is glowing yellow light. Later in life he commented on his expression in this self-portrait, indicating his concern with the political uncertainties that coloured South Africa’s future: ‘What you are reading from my expression is not fear; but mostly mistrust and a deep agony about contradictory attitudes amongst people. I do not have a particular fear, but am looking into the future of our country with much anxiety, yet fully determined to live this life as everybody does – through using one’s personal walking sticks.’1 In 1970, in exile, he painted another self-portrait in which he depicted himself as prematurely old.2
Self-portrait 1947 Oil on canvas board 45.7 x 35.6cm Dated on the reverse ‘14.10.47’ Provenance Acquired from the artist by Mr J Zurnamer, by descent; Bonhams, London, 9 May 2006 (150); Michael Stevenson and Johans Borman Illustrated ‘RK Cope, ‘South Africa: Contemporary painting and sculpture’, The Studio, 136 (668), November 1948, p138; Barbara Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, Johannesburg, 1988, pp126-127; Barbara Lindop, The Art of Gerard Sekoto, London, 1995, p44; Gerard Sekoto, My Life and Work, Johannesburg, 1995, illustrated on the cover. According to Sekoto’s recollections (in Lindop, p35), this work is also reproduced in an (unidentified) article in Time Magazine in 1949.
1 Barbara Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, Johannesburg, 1988, p126 2 Illustrated in Gerard Sekoto, My Life and Work, Johannesburg, 1995, p104
Township Street Scene 1958 Oil on canvas 58 x 78cm Signed and dated bottom right â€˜G Sekoto 58â€™ Provenance Private collection, Washington, USA, 2007; Johans Borman
Township Street Scene 1960 Oil on canvas 34.3 x 47cm Signed and dated bottom right ‘G Sekoto 60’ Provenance Bonhams, London, 30 January 2008 (170); Johans Borman
Ben Enwonwu Nigeria 1921 – 1994
Ben Enwonwu is one of the most celebrated twentieth-century African painters. He was born in Onitsha, eastern Nigeria, in 1921 and studied with the British art teacher Kenneth Murray. He later qualified as an art teacher himself, and his work was included in an exhibition of student work that Murray organised at the Zwemmer Gallery in London in 1937. At a solo exhibition in Lagos in 1943 he met a director of Shell who, the following year (along with the Nigerian colonial government and the British Council), awarded him a scholarship to study art in Britain. Enwonwu started out at Goldsmiths College, moved to Ruskin College, Oxford, and graduated from the Slade School of Art with a distinction in sculpture in 1948. In 1946 he was invited by Sir Julian Huxley (then director-general of Unesco) to participate in an international exhibition of modern art at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris in which he was the only African artist. Soon after his graduation, the colonial government in Nigeria appointed Enwonwu as an Art Supervisor which required him to function as the nation’s official artist and artist-ambassador. As early as 1955 he was awarded an MBE for his contribution to the arts. To commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Nigeria in January/ February 1956 he proposed that he be commissioned to produce a sculptural bust of the Queen. This unusual proposal by a young black artist was accepted, and in 1957 he proceeded to sculpt the portrait which was intended to be displayed in the Nigerian House of Representatives, under construction in anticipation of Nigeria’s self-rule. The bust was first exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists, of which Enwonwu was a member, in 1957.1 Even though he was embraced by the colonial powers, he remained vocal in his support for Nigerian – and African – independence. He returned to Nigeria and led an active and public life in the country’s art affairs. He maintained a studio and
1 Nkiru Nzegwu, ‘The Africanized Queen: Metonymic site of transformation’, Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1(2); and Sylvester Ogbechie, ‘Contested vision: Ben Enwonwu’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II’, Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1(2)
exhibited periodically in both London and Lagos: he had regular solo exhibitions at the Berkeley Gallery in London early in his career (in 1947, 1948, 1950, 1952, 1955), and retrospectives of his work were held in London (1985) and Lagos (1987, 1991). Enwonwu died in 1994 and a foundation dedicated to his work has been established in Lagos by his son (www.benenwonwufoundation.org). Enwonwu’s prolific output cannot be understood as a linear progression of styles; he worked in various mediums and styles simultaneously throughout his life. In an interview in 1958 he declared that ‘he could switch from one to another just as other artists might do one work in stone and another in bronze’.2 As this selection of works illustrates, he switched between painting in a style that evolved directly from European traditions to painting that was more Africanist in both style and subject. The advent of the Zaria Art Society is said to have shifted his work into a more conscious Africanist aesthetic, but, as those works painted prior to 1959 show, he was already actively exploring a synthesis between European traditions and African themes at this time. In an article he wrote in 1956 entitled ‘Problems of the African artist today’, he reflected on the dilemmas of African artists using Western techniques to express themselves: ‘I think the problems of this group are the greatest [as compared with those still working in the traditional realm and those in urban areas working for the tourist market] … because they bear the burden of having to bridge the gap, between the ancient and the modern in art. Besides this fact, it is they who have to evolve a contemporary art that will, for political reasons, prove to the world that African Art can be preserved and can be continued. In my opinion, the preservation and continuity of the characteristic quality of African Art depends largely on how modern African artists can borrow the techniques of the west without copying European art.’3 2 Interview with Peter Fraenkel in Ibadan, 1958, quoted in Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, London, 1968, p48 3 Ben Enwonwu, ‘Problems of the African artist today’, Présence Africaine, 8-10, June-Nov 1956, pp174-178
This quest to evolve a synthesis between European and African aesthetic traditions was his primary aesthetic concern throughout his life. In an interview late in life he reflected on how he sought to draw together these dissimilar conceptions of art: ‘When I use the pure art form of my father’s images and I use my experience, academic knowledge, and my political motivations, I … arrive at a point where
realism and symbolism can meet. That to me is art. What will result and survive is the continuation of the aspirations of African people, their dignified way of life, their beliefs, their dreams, and their yearnings for intrinsic lasting values that are encapsulated in the new form.’4 His endeavours to evolve a fusion of African and European aesthetic traditions were more multifaceted than this binary axis suggests. Enwonwu, as Nkiru Nzegwu has pointed out, had multiple identities constructed in response to different political, social, cultural and economic circumstances. He was ‘Onitsha, male, artist, Nzena-ozo, Catholic, Nigeria, cosmopolitan, and upper class’. He was at ease in Buckingham Palace while simultaneously remaining involved in his traditional family village in Nigeria; consequently, as a person and in his work, he shifted between urban and rural, Europe and Africa, Christianity and traditional belief systems: ‘As a world-class artist, he lived a cosmopolitan lifestyle in … multi-ethnic London. And, as the okpala (patrilineage elder/priest) of Enwonwu family since 1987, he oversaw and attended to the spiritual well-being of the extended family and participated in larger spiritual rites with other okpala of Umuezearoli headquarters.’5 Throughout his life he repeatedly returned to imagery of dancers and masks inspired by masquerades in his home town of Onitsha in Igboland. In these many paintings Enwonwu’s overriding concern was to convey the spirit and rhythm of the dancers rather than to describe their costumes and rituals. Interestingly, as Sylvester Ogbechie has noted, Enwonwu sought to create an artistic synthesis of Nigerian cultures in many of these paintings by combining forms from Igbo, Edo and Yoruba cultures.6 We are grateful to Sylvester Ogbechie for his generous assistance in researching the work of Ben Enwonwu.
Selected Bibliography Clementine Deliss (ed), Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, London, 1995 Okwui Enwezor (ed), The Short Century: Independence and liberation movements in Africa 1945-1994, Munich, London and New York, 2001 Ben Enwonwu, ‘The proposal to build a museum for tomorrow’, Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1(2) [First published in West African Pilot, 1 Dec 1948, p2]
4 Interview with the artist, May 1989, cited in Nkiru Nzegwu, ‘The Africanized Queen: Metonymic site of transformation’, Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1(2), footnote 12 5 Nkiru Nzegwu, ‘Ben Enwonwu: Art from a sixty-year career: A retrospective,’ Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1, 2 [http:// www.ijele.com/vol1.2/benwonwu. htm] 6 Sylvester Ogbechie, ‘Liminal spaces: Perceptions of Enwonwu’s practice in modern Nigerian art’ in Simon Ottenberg (ed), The Nsukka Artists and Nigerian Contemporary Art, Washington, 2002, p214
Ben Enwonwu, ‘The African view of art and some problems facing the African artist’ in Function and Significance of African Negro Art in the Life of the People and for the People. Proceedings of the Colloquium on Negro Art, Dakar, 1966, Paris, 1968, pp417-426. Online at Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1(2) Ben Enwonwu, ‘The evolution, history and definition of fine art’, Ijele: art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1(2), [First published in West African Pilot, 5, 6, 11 May 1949] Ben Enwonwu, ‘Problems of the African artist today’, Présence Africaine, 8-10, June-Nov 1956, pp174-178. Online at Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1(2) Ben Enwonwu Retrospective, exhibition catalogue published on occasion of the artist’s 70th birthday, Lagos, 1991 N’Goné Fall and Jean Loup Pivin (eds), An Anthology of African Art: The Twentieth Century, New York, 2002 Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, Contemporary African Art, London, 1999 Bernice Kelly (comp) and Janet L Stanley (ed), Nigerian Artists: A who’s who and bibliography, London 1993, pp270-272 Nkiru Nzegwu, ‘Representational axis: The cultural realignment of Ben Enwonwu’ in Nkiru Nzegwu (ed), Contemporary Textures: Multidimensionality in Nigerian art, Binghamton, 1999 Nkiru Nzegwu, ‘The Africanized Queen: Metonymic site of transformation’, Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1(2) Nkiru Nzegwu, ‘Ben Enwonwu: Art from a sixty-year career: A retrospective’, Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1, 2 [http://www.ijele.com/vol1.2/index1.2.htm] Sylvester Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: Making of an African Modernist, Rochester, forthcoming Sylvester Ogbechie, ‘Contested vision: Ben Enwonwu’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II’, Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1(2) Sylvester Ogbechie, ‘Liminal spaces: Perceptions of Enwonwu’s practice in modern Nigerian art’ in Simon Ottenberg (ed), The Nsukka Artists and Nigerian Contemporary Art, Washington, 2002, pp208-218 Sylvester Ogbechie, ‘Portrait of the African as a modern artist’, Critical Interventions: A journal of African art history and visual culture, July 2007, 1, pp14-28 Sylvester Ogbechie, ‘Revolution and evolution in modern Nigerian art: Myths and realities’ in Nkiru Nzegwu (ed), Contemporary Textures: Multidimensionality in Nigerian art, Binghamton, 1999
Hunters in the Jungle 1943 Watercolour on card 30 x 39.5cm Signed and dated bottom right â€˜Ben Chas Enwonwu 1943â€™ Provenance: Private collection, Bristol, 2007; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Girl with Blue Headscarf 1953 Oil on canvas board 30.5 x 24.5 cm Signed and dated bottom left â€˜Ben Enwonwu 1953â€™ Provenance London art market, 2006; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Boy with Hands Folded 1953 Charcoal and coloured chalks on paper 29.5 x 44 cm Signed and dated top right â€˜Ben Enwonwu 1953â€™ Provenance London art market, 2006; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Four Dancing Figures 1955 Gouache on paper 26.5 x 17.5cm Signed and dated bottom right ‘BE 1955’ and inscribed bottom left ‘no 7’ Written on the reverse: ‘Study of sculpture by Ben Enwonwu Nigerian artist who did statue of Queen Elizabeth II’ Provenance London art market, 2004; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Abstract Figures ‘The image depicts male and female dancers and it is executed with hints of indigenous Igbo ideographic imagery on the skirt of the female figure in the foreground (the yellow semicircular shapes stacked vertically on the left edge of the white skirt recall Uli signs). The bold red colours indicate that this painting also echoes funerary dances from Benin culture. This particular shade of red (called “blood red” in Benin) is the precise colour of coral beads of the sort that the Edo (Benin) king and his senior chiefs wear for ritual ceremonies.’ Sylvester Ogbechie
Abstract Figures 1958 Oil on canvas 91.5 x 30.6cm Signed and dated bottom left ‘Ben Enwonwu 1958’ Provenance London art market, 2004; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Crucified Gods Galore 1967-68 Acrylic on canvas 151 x 122cm Signed and dated bottom right ‘Ben Enwonwu 1967-68’ Provenance London art market, 2004; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson Illustrated Nkiru Nzegwu, ‘Ben Enwonwu: Art from a sixty-year career: A retrospective’, Ijele: Art ejournal of the African world, 2000, 1, 2 [http://www.ijele.com/vol1.2/index1.2.htm]
River Niger Landscape ‘The painting is one of a series of River Niger landscapes Enwonwu did for quite a while in his professional career. Usually, they are on horizontal canvas and he showed one at his 1957 Royal Academy exhibition where he also showed his portrait bust of Queen Elizabeth II. He was initially working on this as part of his general propensity towards landscapes. They are specific for their focus on the river, and when the civil war started, he made many more of them, and the paintings got more violent. This one is interesting because his usual palette for this kind of work is a greenish overall hue. This one tends towards the teals and cerulean colors he used mainly as undercoat.’ Sylvester Ogbechie
River Niger Landscape 1965 Oil on canvas 53 x 96.5cm Signed and dated bottom right ‘Ben Enwonwu 1965’ Provenance Private collection, Sussex, 2004; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Portrait of Ben Enwonwu’s Driver 1968 Oil on board 47 x 33cm Signed and dated bottom left ‘Ben Enwonwu 1968’ Provenance Dr Kenneth Wood, acquired directly from the artist in Nigeria in the 1960s; Bonhams, London, 13 September 2000, African Paintings, lot 69; Private collection, UK, 2007; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
George Pemba South Africa 1912 – 2001
George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba was born in 1912 and educated at a mission school near Port Elizabeth. He enrolled at Lovedale College in Alice in the Eastern Cape and qualified as a teacher in 1934. During his studies, in 1931, he received training in painting and drawing from Ethel Smythe, who taught art on an informal level at the University of Fort Hare (South African Native College) and introduced him to watercolour painting. Inspired by the French Impressionists, as well as Rembrandt and Velázquez, whose works he admired in Smythe’s art books, he sought access to formal art education, writing to Dr Shepherd at Lovedale: ‘I am earnestly desirous of furthering my knowledge of this hobby. So far the fees that have been charged by institutions I have consulted have been rather beyond my means as I have to be of great help to my family.’1 After graduation, in 1935 he accepted a teaching post at a school in King William’s Town, supplementing his income by painting commissions. Aside from the prohibitive costs of further studies, the exclusion of blacks from white education institutions limited his options. However, in 1937 the Bantu Welfare Trust granted him £60 to study as an ‘external’ student for four months with Professor Austin Winter Moore, head of the art school at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, with whom he continued his focus on watercolours. Pemba entered the May Esther Bedford Art Competition of that year and took first prize, with Gerard Sekoto the runner-up. He resigned from his teaching post in 1938 and moved to a better paid job at the New Brighton Department of Native Administration in Port Elizabeth. In 1942 Pemba visited Cape Town and met Sekoto, who advised him to switch to oil painting – because it was more saleable – and to broaden his subject matter from portraits to scenes describing township life. Later, in Johannesburg, Pemba met John
1 Hayden Proud (ed), George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba: Retrospective exhibition, Cape Town, 1996, pp22-23
Mohl, who affirmed Sekoto’s advice and encouraged him to paint full-time. Like Sekoto, Pemba longed to travel and work in Europe in order to broaden his horizons, but his financial responsibilities made this impossible. In 1944 he secured a further grant from the Bantu Welfare Trust which he used to embark on a tour of South Africa to observe the country’s people in their natural surroundings. He travelled to Johannesburg, Durban, rural Natal, Basutoland and Umtata, producing sketches of the indigenous cultures of the different regions which formed the basis of his watercolours of people in traditional dress in the latter part of the 1940s. After a successful solo exhibition in 1948 in Port Elizabeth, he resolved to devote himself to painting full-time. Unfortunately, he was unable to support his family and opened a small general dealer’s store which he and his wife ran until 1978. Between 1968 and 1990 he also received support for his extended family – of 20 children – from the IDAF, a London-based organisation providing clandestine help to families oppressed by apartheid. As a result of his commitments, as well as personal ordeals, he painted only sporadically from the 1950s through to the 1970s. His watercolours from the 1940s and early 1950s are an oeuvre in themselves. Hayden Proud, in an obituary of the artist, praises the ‘superb technical achievements’ of his watercolours and thought it was ‘a pity that Pemba abandoned watercolour for oil’. He makes an interesting observation that ‘Pemba’s watercolours form an underestimated extension, together with those of Sekoto and Gerard Bhengu, of a quintessentially English art tradition transplanted into an African context’.2 In the watercolour in this catalogue, the seated man looks out at the viewer. His brooding intensity demonstrates Pemba’s skill in sensitively portraying the inner life of his subjects and transcending the illustrative qualities that are often associated with the medium. In November 1947 some of his ‘native studies’ were exhibited in East London at St Saviour’s Church Hall under the auspices of the Institute of Race Relations. A reviewer wrote in the Daily Dispatch (12.11.1947) that they show ‘the intimate knowledge the artist has of his own people. Many of them were outstanding and attracted a great deal of attention. Pemba deserves special praise for his works because he … brings out with whimsical humour in some cases the tragedy he has seen and felt for his own people.’ 2 Hayden Proud, ‘A life spent painting against all odds’, Cape Times, 24 July 2001
Throughout his life he expressed his anger and hatred towards the apartheid system by depicting the everyday struggle of black people in his paintings, and two of the
works illustrated reflect this primary concern. In Trek, painted in 1975, he shows the reality of forced removals. Inkanyamba, painted in 1987, conveys the atrocities of the government’s covert ‘third force’ activities in the black townships. The title refers to an uncontrollable snake that wreaks havoc like a tornado, terrorising the community and destroying lives by inducing fear and chaos. Yet Pemba was also painting works that occasionally in subject and often in style reflect his lifelong interest in the French painting tradition, stretching from the academic realism of Jean-Francois Millet through to the Impressionists. Proud recounts that even late in life, Pemba wished to visit Paris in homage to the inspirations its artists had afforded him, motivated perhaps by a haunting regret that he did not follow Sekoto and Mancoba into exile.3 The sensibility of Millet is to be seen in Trek, whereas in In the Mood, dating from 1961, Pemba ventured unusually into the styles of the early twentieth century, in what Jacqueline Nolte describes as a ‘flirtation with Parisian modernism’: ‘its urban nightlife is signaled by Pemba’s signature “mounted” as if a neon sign, atop a high-rise building painted in as a background detail to the left of the format’.4 His late self-portrait, painted in 1987, carries broader stylistic references to the long European tradition of self-portraiture. In 1979 Pemba was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree by the University of Fort Hare and around this time started painting full-time. After some commercial shows in the early 1990s, which introduced his work to the public, he was the subject of a retrospective exhibition organised by the South African National Gallery in 1996. Despite years of adversity and poverty, Pemba’s painting career spanned six decades, providing a visual history of a transforming South Africa. Working mostly in isolation, he established himself as a pioneer of social realism, taking his inspiration from the realities and struggles of black people’s everyday lives, both in the cities and the countryside. As Proud concluded his obituary, ‘Pemba was an artist in love with painting, unashamedly claiming the best of both European and African traditions as his own. Possessed of a deep humility, a profound sense of human dignity, and a loving sense of humor, his memory deserves a special place in the nation’s heart.’5 Selected Bibliography Hayden Proud (ed), George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba: Retrospective exhibition, Cape Town, 1996 Sarah Hudleston, George Pemba: Against all odds, Johannesburg, 1996
3 Hayden Proud (ed), George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba: Retrospective exhibition, Cape Town, 1996, pp12-13 4 Jacqueline Nolte, ‘Sources and style in the oil paintings of George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba’ in Hayden Proud (ed), George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba: Retrospective exhibition, Cape Town, 1996, pp33-73 5 Hayden Proud, ‘A life spent painting against all odds’, Cape Times, 24 July 2001
Portrait of a Man in Traditional Dress 1950 Watercolour on paper 32 x 24cm Signed and dated bottom left ‘MM Pemba 1950’; inscribed on a label on reverse ‘Presented to Lowell de Wolf by his “Sun” students. Port Elizabeth, August 1955’ Provenance Private collection, USA, 2007; Johans Borman
In the Mood 1961 Oil on canvas board 30 x 40 cm Signed and dated left â€˜Pemba 61â€™ Provenance Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg, 2006; Johans Borman Illustrated Sarah Hudleston, George Pemba: Against all odds, Johannesburg, 1996, p118; Hayden Proud (ed), George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba: Retrospective exhibition, Cape Town, 1996, p69
Trek 1975 Oil on canvas board 55 x 75cm Signed and dated bottom right â€˜M Pemba 75â€™ Provenance Private collection, Plettenberg Bay, 1976-2006; Johans Borman
Inkanyamba 1987 Oil on board 48.5 x 65cm Signed and dated â€˜M Pemba 87â€™ and inscribed with the title on the reverse Provenance Professor EJ de Jager, 2006; Johans Borman
Self-portrait 1987 Oil on board 66 x 49cm Signed and dated top left â€˜M Pemba 87â€™ Provenance Stephan Welz & Co, Johannesburg, 30 July 2007 (366); Michael Stevenson and Johans Borman
Sam Ntiro Tanzania 1923 – 1993
Sam Ntiro was born in 1923 in Tanganyika. He moved to Uganda in 1944 to study at Makerere College, taking art as one of his three subjects. He graduated with a College Higher School Certificate in 1947 and the following year was appointed painting assistant to Margaret Trowell, the founder of the art school at Makerere. Through the support of the government’s Colonial Development and Welfare Fund Scholarship, he continued his education at the Slade School of Art in London between 1952 and 1955. He graduated with a diploma, and the following year took an Art Teacher’s Diploma at the Institute of Education. In 1955, on completion of his studies, he had a solo exhibition at the Piccadilly Gallery in London, which received complimentary reviews, and all but one of his thirty-two pictures were sold. Returning to Uganda, Ntiro taught at the Margaret Trowell School of Art until 1961. When Cecil Todd, who had previously taught in South Africa, took over as director, Ntiro left because the international view of art advocated by Todd was radically different to Trowell’s vision of African art and education.1 Ntiro then moved back to the newly independent Tanzania where he held various government positions as a diplomat, a civil servant and an academic. He served as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1961 to 1964, and as commissioner of culture in Tanzania from 1967 to 1972. He continued to teach art as head of department at Kyambogo Teacher’s College in 1965-66, and founded the Department of Art, Music and Theatre at the University of Dar es Salaam in 1973 where he taught until he retired. He also continued to paint, and he had further solo exhibitions at Merton D Simpson Gallery, New York, in 1959; at the Uganda Museum, Kampala, in 1966; at the Piccadilly Gallery in 1967; at the National Museum, Dar es Salaam, in 1968; and at the Nexus Gallery, New Orleans, Louisiana – entitled Living in Tanzania – in 1977.
1 Tobias Döring, African Cultures, Visual Arts, and the Museum: Sights/sites of creativity, Amsterdam, 2002, p141
The themes of his paintings can broadly be divided into two groups. A significant aspect of his early oeuvre was devoted to Christian iconography, as in the painting Agony in the Garden. This depicts the events following the Last Supper, when Christ took his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. According to Luke (22: 43-44) while the disciples slept ‘there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly.’ This element of his oeuvre grew out of Trowell’s strong emphasis on biblical imagery at Makerere, where she advocated a fusion of Christianity and traditional beliefs as inspiration for modern African painting. The majority of Ntiro’s works depict the daily tasks of village and farming life in a rural landscape. This imagery was inspired by his upbringing in the Chagga region, on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Instead of looking to Parisian painting for stylistic and thematic stimulus, his work remained rooted in the rhythms of life in the countryside – market day, building huts, making beer, producing coffee, hoeing the fields, chopping wood and feeding the cattle. This approach attracted criticism from colleagues at the Margaret Trowell School who felt that his work was insufficiently academic and international.2 Ntiro responded, ‘Like the painter of prehistoric times, we … should not be afraid of really looking at the world around us in East Africa and interpreting it as faithfully as we can. There is no earthly reason why we should be ashamed of the world in which we find ourselves. It is our world both geographically and historically, and we should be proud of it.’3
2 George Kyeyune, Art in Uganda in the Twentieth Century, unpublished thesis, SOAS, 2003, pp102-3 3 Sam Ntiro, ‘The future of East African art’ in East Africa's Cultural Heritage, Nairobi, 1966 4 Margaret Trowell, African Arts and Crafts: Their development at the School, London, 1937, p16
Even though he trained at the Slade and was exposed to the developments of modern art, Ntiro never explored abstraction or other modern stylistic tendencies in his work, and remained rooted in a naïve sensibility. With its muted palette, flattened perspective, rhythmic forms and elongated figures, his work is perhaps closer to that of the Italian Primitives than any element of modernism. This sensibility was fostered by Trowell who was opposed to teaching the Renaissance legacy of perspective and illusionism as well as the modernist response to this tradition. Her goal was to avoid both traditions by reviving the ‘life and vigour’ of medieval creativity when art and spirituality were inseparable.4
Ntiro attended the Second Congress of Black Artists and Writers in Rome in 1959, and in 1960 he visited the United States on a Carnegie Foundation grant. There is one work by Ntiro in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York: Men Taking Banana Beer to Bridge by Night, painted in 1956 and acquired in 1960 (122.1960). The Harmon Foundation acquired seven works. The National Museum of African Art in Washington acquired a major painting of cows in 2000.
Selected Bibliography Tobias Döring, African Cultures, Visual Arts, and the Museum: Sights/sites of creativity, Amsterdam, 2002, pp138-142 Clementine Deliss (ed), Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, London, 1995, p292 George Kyeyune, Art in Uganda in the Twentieth Century, unpublished thesis, SOAS, 2003, pp98-104 Sam Ntiro, Desturi za Wachagga, Volume 1 of Customs and Traditions in East Africa: A study of tribal life, East Africa Literature Bureau, 1953 Sam Ntiro, Oil Paintings on Life in British East Africa (Merton D Simpson Gallery), New York, 1960 Sam Ntiro, ‘East African art’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 111 (5082), May 1963, pp465-482 Sam Ntiro, ‘The future of East African art’ in East Africa’s Cultural Heritage, Nairobi, 1966 Sunanda K Sanyal, ‘Modernism and cultural politics in East Africa: Cecil Todd’s drawings of the Uganda martyrs’, African Arts, Spring 2006, 39 KM Trowell, ‘Modern African art in East Africa’, Man, January, 1947, 47, pp1-7 KM Trowell, African Tapestry, London, 1957 Margaret Trowell, African Arts and Crafts: Their development at the School, London, 1937
Agony in the Garden Circa 1950 Oil on canvas 41 x 50.5cm Signed bottom right â€˜SJ Ntiroâ€™ Provenance David Reid, London, c1990; Michael Graham-Stewart, 2000; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson Exhibited Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1995 Illustrated Michael Graham-Stewart, About Strange Lands and People, London, 2001
Market Day 1955 Oil on board 77.5 x 115cm Signed bottom right ‘SJ Ntiro’ and dated on back of painting ‘1955’ Provenance London art market, 2006; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Working on a Winding Road Oil on board 68.5 x 53.5cm Signed bottom right â€˜SJ Ntiroâ€™ Provenance Standard Charter Bank Collection; London art market, 2007; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Log-cutting in the Forest Oil on board 68.5 x 53.5cm Signed bottom right â€˜SJ Ntiroâ€™ Provenance Standard Charter Bank Collection; London art market, 2007; Michael GrahamStewart and Michael Stevenson
Gathering in the Village Oil on canvas 61 x 61cm Signed bottom right â€˜SJ Ntiroâ€™ Provenance Naomi Mitchison, Carradale House, Argyll, Scotland, 2001; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Collecting Wood in the Forest Oil on canvas 61 x 61cm Signed bottom right â€˜SJ Ntiroâ€™ Provenance Naomi Mitchison, Carradale House, Argyll, Scotland, 2001; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Thomas Mukarobgwa Zimbabwe 1924 – 1999
Thomas Mukarobgwa was the only painter to come to prominence from the workshops founded by Frank McEwen in then-Rhodesia in the late 1950s. Mukarobgwa was an attendant at the National Gallery when McEwen arrived to take up his position as director. As the artist recalled: ‘I was working and he gives us watercolor paint for us to go and try because I didn’t even know how to use the paint … and then we go work at our Township, in the African Township … then we show him. He was pleased with mine … then he bought it…. As I carried on, he decided that I should go out and talk to other people … so then we can open the workshop here in the National Gallery.’1 McEwen encouraged his students to connect with the same African imagery that influenced Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and the German Expressionists, among others, rather than advocating these artists as primary references. He referred to Mukarobgwa’s work – with its abstracted and simplified forms, vivid saturated colours and thick impasto – as ‘Afro-German Expressionism’.2 Many of Mukarobgwa’s paintings have a metaphysical and mystical quality, reflected in this oil in which two orange birds assist a flying human figure in his ascension to heaven.3 Another of Mukarobgwa's interests lies in the interrelationship of daily life and surrounding nature, as illustrated by the titles of the four paintings in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York: View You See from a Tree, Dying People in the Bush, Very Important Bush and River Coming in the Middle of a Bush.4 Selected Bibliography Okwui Enwezor (ed), The Short Century: Independence and liberation movements in Africa 1945-1994, Munich, London and New York, 2001, pp98-99 Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, Contemporary African Art, London, 1999, pp68-76
1 Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, Contemporary African Art, London, 1999, p69. Kasfir dedicated her book to Mukarobgwa, who died just prior to its publication. 2 Ibid, p71 3 The provenance of this painting can be traced to Naomi Mitchison, who was a renowned and eccentric Scottish author who wrote fiction, science fiction, political and historical novels. A number of her books raised issues of racism in South Africa and were banned there. She had a close friendship with Lynchwe II, Chief of the Bakgatla tribe, who lived in Botswana and South Africa. He rewarded her with the title of Mmarona, honorary grandmother of the tribe. See also Ntiro in this catalogue, pp100, 101. 4 These works, all dating from 1962, entered MoMA’s collection in 1963, presumably through McEwen’s friendship with Alfred Barr, the former director of MoMA.
When you live very good in the world you will be taken up to heaven when you die 1963 Oil on board 91.5 x 76cm Signed bottom right â€˜Thomas Muâ€™; label on reverse inscribed with title Provenance Naomi Mitchison, Carradale House, Argyll, Scotland, 2001; Michael GrahamStewart and Michael Stevenson
Valerie Desmore South Africa 1925 –
Valerie Desmore was born in Cape Town to a family classified as ‘coloured’. Both her parents were teachers and her father, Abe Desmore, obtained a Master’s degree in education from Columbia University, New York, in 1936. Desmore was a gifted scholar and was the first coloured woman to hold a solo exhibition in Cape Town, in 1942, when she was sixteen years old. She was tutored by Rosa van Gelden, a prominent figure in Cape Town educational and intellectual circles and a good friend of Irma Stern. Due to the impossibility of a university art education under apartheid, the artist went abroad in 1946 to study at the Slade School of Art in London. She was unsuited to its academic approach and soon left the school to become a student of the Viennese Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka. This painting, titled The Family, depicts the artist with her parents and was painted in 1958. In 1951 Desmore enrolled for a course in fashion design. She produced her own collections in the early 1960s and opened a design shop in Covent Garden in 1978. She later worked for the retail chain Marks & Spencer for 18 years, returning to her painting periodically. She still lives in London, and has recently been painting portraits of herself undergoing dialysis.
Selected Bibliography Elza Miles, Land and Lives: A story of early black artists, Johannesburg, 1997, pp89-90
The Family 1958 Oil on canvas board 71 x 112cm Signed and dated bottom right â€˜Valerie Desmore 1958â€™ Provenance Warren Siebrits, 2008; with Michael Stevenson Illustrated Warren Siebrits, Adams, Clarke, Desmore and Dollar Brand, Johannesburg, 2005
Simon Lekgetho South Africa 1929 – 1985
Simon Moroke Lekgetho is one of the many lesser-known but fascinating early black South African artists who have only belatedly received some critical attention. He was born in Schoemansville in the present-day North West province; after his schooling he moved to Pretoria where he worked as a clerk for the Provincial Administration. He started focusing on his painting in the early 1950s after some brief tuition (by Walter Battiss, among others). He also taught art at his studio at 1216 Fortuin Street, Lady Selborne, a black township near Pretoria that was destroyed under the Group Areas Act in the 1960s. Lekgetho, along with many other residents, moved to Garankuwa, a new township further north, where he died in 1985. His oeuvre comprises a range of subjects, from landscapes and studies of Bushman paintings through to divination still lifes and occasional portraits, all painted in oil. In this unusual self-portrait painted around 1960, relatively early in his oeuvre, Lekgetho turns his scrutiny to himself. There is another published self-portrait, dated 1957, in which the artist has painted with a subdued and earthy palette.1 In this painting, he has used a more dramatic palette with his face and blue shirt set against a strongly contrasting, flat red background which invigorates the picture plane. Elza Miles has written that, ‘A strange magical silence prevails in Simon Lekgetho’s paintings’,2 and, although she was referring specifically to Lekgetho’s divination still lifes, there is a similar quality to this portrait. It is quiet and still, yet his intense and haunting stare conveys a sense of his dilemmas as an artist.
Selected Bibliography Hayden Proud (ed), Revisions: Expanding the narrative of South African art, Pretoria and Cape Town, 2007, pp150-153 Elza Miles, Land and Lives: A story of early black artists, Johannesburg, 1997, pp122–124
1 Hayden Proud (ed), Revisions, Pretoria and Cape Town, 2007, p153 2 Elza Miles, Land and Lives: A story of early black artists, Johannesburg, 1997, p124
Self Portrait Circa 1960 Oil on paper 35 x 43cm Signed and inscribed with title top right â€˜Self Portrait S Lekgethoâ€™ Provenance United States art market, 2007; Michael Stevenson
Peter Clarke South Africa 1929 –
The poet, painter and printmaker Peter Clarke was born and lived in Simonstown until 1972 when his community was forcibly removed under the Group Areas Act to Ocean View, where he still lives and works. The significance of his generation of coloured artists and writers – which includes Richard Rive, James Matthews, Kenny Baker and George Hallett – in the cultural milieu of apartheid South Africa is insufficiently acknowledged. Clarke, in his work, has always been sensitive to the harsh social realities experienced by the disempowered in Cape Town and the rural Cape. In his early paintings, dating from the late 1950s and early 1960s, he painted scenes inspired by observations of daily life in Simonstown, District Six, the Cape Flats and on outlying farms. Gerard Sekoto recalled meeting Clarke during his stay in Cape Town between 1942 and 1945, and described him as a ‘promising young coloured painter’.1 But it was only in 1956, at the age of twenty-seven, that Clarke was able to resign from his job as a ships’ painter on the docks of Simonstown to focus on his writing and painting. He studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 1961 and at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, in 1962–63. His imagery reflects the intensity of his engagement with South American modernist artists, and in particular Diego Rivera, in the expressive and angular faces of his subjects and his use of strong, contrasting colours. A counterpoint to the early oil On the Dunes, painted in 1960, is a ‘fan’ from his Fanfare series published by Michael Stevenson in 2004 on the occasion of Clarke’s seventy-fifth birthday. Clarke is almost alone among the early black artists in his use of collage. His first attempts at this medium were in the late 1950s when he came across works by artists such as Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Höch as well as the black American artist Romare Bearden.2 In the years since he has continued to explore and play with collage, culminating in the Fanfare series. Clarke playfully ascribes his interest in collage to the junk mail that he receives:
1 Barbara Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, Johannesburg, 1988, p24 2 Michael Stevenson (ed), Peter Clarke: Fanfare, Cape Town, 2004, p6
On the Dunes 1960 Oil on canvas 50 x 70cm Signed bottom left ‘Clarke 1960’ and inscribed on reverse in the artist’s hand ‘Peter Clarke Flat 19, Block 5, Waterfall Road, Simon’s Town, CP, South Africa’ Provenance David Lowe, by descent, Joan Goldsmith, New York, 2007; Michael Stevenson Exhibited Peter Clarke solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Cape Town, May 1962
‘[A]t first I thought of returning it to the senders. I decided however that this was pointless and realised I could make use of it in the form of collage. … if you never get rid of stuff you eventually find yourself surrounded by so much of it that, at times, you do need to spring clean in order to start thinking clearly. And making collages is part of cleaning out the clutter.’ In his series of 100 fans Clarke brings historical, biblical and literary figures, as well as people who have had a direct influence on his life, into his own fantasy theatre: ‘I had the idea of designing a fan to suggest each particular individual, and under the fans designed for them, they put in brief appearances. Sometimes they even utter words, make brief statements. Sometimes I put thoughts into their minds, words into their mouths. I suppose that after many years of reading, certain characters stand out – they acquire a kind of permanent presence. However, I do not forget the ones in the background – as in a group photograph, the people in front create the immediate memory but the people behind have a presence of their own. Certain characters are always there even though they have taken back seats. Similarly with this series, the characters who were in the front row of my mind at a particular moment inspired fans.’3 In South Africa Clarke has still not received the acclaim and national recognition that are his due after fifty years of painting and poetry, and he expresses his ambivalence towards the notion of success in the poem that accompanies his fan for A Great Artist (illustrated on page 37). Nonetheless his significance may finally be acknowledged in the near future when Philippa Hobbs and Elizabeth Rankin publish their extensive research into his painting and printmaking.
Selected Bibliography More than Brothers: Peter Clarke and James Matthews at seventy, Cape Town, 2000 P Hardy, Peter E Clarke: The hand is the tool of the soul, Cape Town, 1992 Elza Miles, Land and Lives: A story of early black artists, Johannesburg, 1997, pp149-154 Michael Stevenson (ed), Peter Clarke: Fanfare, Cape Town, 2004
3 Michael Stevenson (ed), Peter Clarke: Fanfare, Cape Town, 2004, p7
The Mourner 1964 Oil on board 45 x 35cm Signed bottom right ‘Clarke 18.6.1964’ and on a typed label on reverse ‘The Mourner, 18.6.1964, Peter Clarke, no 27’ Provenance The artist, c2004; New York art market, 2008; Private collection, New York, 2008; Michael Stevenson
Valente Malangatana Ngwenya Mozambique 1936 –
Malangatana is the most prominent artist in the first generation of modern Mozambican painters. He attended a Swiss mission school in the early 1940s and was inspired by his teacher to draw: ‘Here in this school I first saw pictures in books but I did not believe they were drawings.’1 He continued his education at a Catholic school, and taught there on completion of his studies. In 1953 he moved to Lourenço Marques and worked at the Colonial Club while studying painting at night classes. His desire to paint was misunderstood in the colonial period when there were no formal avenues for a black person to study art, and he was at first isolated in his endeavours as an artist: ‘there were always people who attacked me for painting and drawing because in the view of many it was just playing about – indeed it was playing, but seriously, was always my reply to those who attacked me.’ 2 In October 1959 his work came to the notice of Pancho Guedes, the pioneering modernist architect who did much of his work in Mozambique. Guedes arranged a studio and support for the artist, and as of January 1960 Malangatana moved to Guedes’ house where he devoted himself solely to his art. Guedes was opposed to Malangatana undergoing formal art education, and projected his romantic and patronising notion of a modern African artist onto Malangatana: ‘He agreed that I should go to the decorative painting class at the Industrial School, but for some time didn’t want me to go back to the Nucleo Art Club or to visit the better known painters, to be sure I would avoid “pollution”.’3 Instead, at Guedes’ instigation, ‘I went in a journey well into the interior of the bush. He wanted me to absorb scenes, expressions, visions, that I would see, hear and feel, and relive my past/ present. He wanted me to be with my ancestors to search out the unknown that I
1 Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, London and New York, 1963, p63 2 Julian Beinart, ‘Malangatana’, Black Orpheus, 10, Ibadan, nd, p24 3 NV Malangatana, Viva Pancho, Durban, 2003, p16
Valente Malangatana Ngwenya
knew without knowing. … He well knows how to shape people. Pancho sculpted and burnished my soul, anthropologised me internally, made me dig into my entrails to lay bare the mythologies within.’4 The Farewell was painted in 1961 in this first burst of creativity. On the painting he has inscribed prose in Ronga, his native language – a note from the deceased first wife, seated to the left, addressed to her husband, the seated man, and his second wife who stands behind him; at the windows curious onlookers peer in. An English translation of the text reads: ‘Muvela, take care of my sons – Mungoni and Muceu. Stay with our husband. You have to know that I was the first wife. Tell my sons to keep studying at school. It’s me Likheleba Mabyaya. Bye bye my beloved husband. Likheleba’.5 The combination of text and image is relatively rare in Malangatana’s oeuvre although he also saw himself unequivocally as a poet: ‘I love art and poetry; apart from this, poetry is art written on white paper without colours and in repeated letters, but poetry in a picture has life, smell and movement also … and I will even say that wherever I am, I shall be painting’.6
4 NV Malangatana, Viva Pancho, Durban, 2003, p16 5 The text in Ronga reads: ‘MUVELA, BEKISSANI A BANABANGA, MUNGONI NA MUCEU. SALA NI NUNA WAKU, KAMBE TIVA LESWAKU MINI NI WAKUSUNGULA. BYELANI A BANABANGA BAYA DONDA A XIKOLENI. HI MINI LIKHELEBA MABYAYA. HAMBANI NKANTANGA. LIKHELEBA’ 6 Julian Beinart, ‘Malangatana’, Black Orpheus, 10, Ibadan, nd, p25 7 NV Malangatana, Viva Pancho, Durban, 2003, p17 8 Julian Beinart, ‘Malangatana’, Black Orpheus, 10, Ibadan, nd
He was rapidly and widely acclaimed for his paintings. His first exhibition, of fiftyseven paintings, was held in April 1961, and Guedes arranged for part of the show to travel to Cape Town and abroad. Guedes was friendly with both Frank McEwen and Ulli Beier, and Malangatana also met many other interesting people such as Tristan Tzara, Breyten Breytenbach and Wole Soyinka through Guedes.7 In 1961, when Malangatana was 25, the architect Julian Beinart wrote an essay on his work in the journal Black Orpheus (published by Beier) in which he described Malangatana’s work of the past two years as displaying a ‘rare intuitive artistic sensibility’: ‘Like few others in Southern Africa, he has used his work to come to terms with the dualities and conflicts … [and] he has embraced them all and turned them to profit. His task is to retain this vision while developing both as a person and a painter, and his position as a young artist is to be watched with the greatest of interest.’8 He was exhibited in the early 1960s by the Mbari Club, a writers’ and artists’ space in the newly independent Nigerian city of Ibadan, of which Chinua Achebe, Ulli
Valente Malangatana Ngwenya
Beier, Uche Okeke and Wole Soyinka were founding members and South African Es’kia Mphahlele the first president. Many international exhibitions followed in the years to come. During this period, Malangatana asked Eduardo Mondlane, who was prominent in the Frelimo movement, about securing a scholarship to study abroad, and he was advised to remain in his own country and stay in touch with his people.9 In the years leading up to the revolution in 1975 Malangatana strongly identified with the liberation struggle. In 1965 he and other artists were imprisoned by the colonial government for their links with Frelimo. After eighteen months in prison he returned to painting, but prior to and after the revolution in 1975 he remained dedicated to serving as a comrade and worker, even though at periods this commitment limited his creativity. Mario Pissarra argues that his work became strongly political in its engagement with colonialism and its legacy, even though many readings of his work continue to emphasise his ethnic origins and traditional culture as a primary influence which was significant in his early work.10 In his later years, his aesthetic became more stylised and his paintings tended to comprise groups of faces and figures similar to those he painted on the large round glazed platter illustrated here.11 We are grateful to the artist and Julieta Massimbe for assisting us in cataloguing The Farewell.
Selected Bibliography Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, London and New York, 1968, pp62-74 Julian Beinart, ‘Malangatana’, Black Orpheus, 10, Ibadan, nd Jean Kennedy, Contemporary African Artists in a Generation of Change, Washington, 1992, pp150-152 Eugénio Lemos, Retrospectiva da Malangatana Valente Ngwenya, Maputo, 1986 NV Malangatana, Viva Pancho [Recollections of Pancho Guedes], Durban, 2003, pp16-17 Julio Navarro (ed), Malangatana, Valente Ngwenya, Lisbon, 1998 (republished in English, Dar es Salaam, 2003) Mario Pissarra, ‘Re-reading Malangatana’, www.asai.co.za/forum, 2006 and an edited version published in Farafina, 11 Betty Schneider, ‘Malangatana of Mozambique’, African Arts, 5(2), 1972, pp40-45 Betty Schneider, ‘Malangatana: Artist of the revolution’, African Arts, 21(3), 1988, pp58-88
9 Betty Schneider, ‘Malangatana: Artist of the revolution’, African Arts, 21(3), 1988, p60 10 See Mario Pissarra, ‘Re-reading Malangatana’, 2006, www.asai. co.za/forum, and an edited version published in Farafina, 11 11 In the monograph by Julio Navarro, three other ceramic pieces are reproduced, dated 1973.
Valente Malangatana Ngwenya
Three Figures 1971 Glazed ceramic Diameter 53cm Signed on reverse â€˜29-06-71 Malangatana Lisboaâ€™ Provenance Cape Town art market, 2000; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Valente Malangatana Ngwenya
The Farewell 1961 Oil on canvas 44 x 45cm Signed and dated bottom left ‘Malangatana 61’ and inscribed on reverse ‘4 the farewell’ Provenance Johannesburg art market, 2005; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Valente Malangatana Ngwenya
Twins Seven-Seven Nigeria 1944 –
Taiwo Olaniyi Oyewale Aitoyeje, known as Twins Seven-Seven, is the most prominent artist to emerge from Ulli Beier’s initiatives at the Mbari Mbayo Club in Oshogbo, Nigeria, in the early 1960s. He arrived at the club as an outlandish dancer, and even once he became a well-known painter he continued to divide his time between painting, dancing and running a small theatre company.1 To his mind, Beier’s workshops provided him with the focus and capacity to work as an artist: ‘Perhaps the most important thing that I got from the workshop was that it taught me how to stand on my own feet. It enabled me to discover myself as an artist, it enabled me to sit down and work for hours without getting tired, it made me understand that concentration is one of the most important things an artist needs in life.’2
Mythical Figures 1969 Felt pen on linen 171.5 x 164cm Inscribed lower centre ‘2.15/*****/ NW3/146/Abebi Ibadao/19 x 69’ Provenance London art market, 2005; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Twins Seven-Seven was not interested in the history of European art and modernism. His stance was affirmed by the workshops which did not advocate formal tuition but were rather presented as outlets for soulful creativity, untainted by Western concerns. As he writes: ‘I never looked at other people’s art work, I don’t pay attention; and even when I do look at those things, I just look, but they don’t enter my mind. Up until now, people say that I don’t appreciate other people’s work: because when I look at it, I don’t see it. All I see is what I want to do.’3 His imagery was rooted in his own imagination and in Yoruba cosmology. In his paintings imaginative creatures – spirits, ghosts and gods coming from the material and metaphysical worlds – are entwined and integrated with decorative patterns and designs. He vividly describes how dreams are the font of his imagery:
1 Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, London, 1968, pp112-118 2 Twins Seven-Seven, A Dreaming Life: An autobiography of Chief Twins SevenSeven, Bayreuth, 1999, p32 3 Ibid, p20
‘After working for about six months, I started to have dreams. Then I began to see most of the things that I wanted to paint. I used to get upset when I woke up and could not remember my dreams, because there was no kind of camera to take [images of] them but often I remembered very fantastic things. Things come to me like that.’4 In his Untitled painting of a foreboding person, a figure from nightmares or the underworld, wearing a traditional cloak, he has incorporated found objects into the thick paint surface in contrast to his more characteristic graphic style, to be seen in Mythical Figures. His first solo exhibition was in Lagos in 1965, and he exhibited regularly in Lagos in the 1970s. There are significant collections of his work in Iwalea-Haus in Bayreuth and the Museum für Völkerkunde in Frankfurt, Germany.
Selected Bibliography Ulli Beier, ‘Chief Twins Seven-Seven Art’, Culturen, 1987, 1, pp12-18 Ulli Beier, ‘Chief Councillor Twins Seven-Seven: A seamless Yoruba personality’ in Three Yoruba Artists: Twins SevenSeven, Ademola Onibonokuta, Muraina Oyelami, Bayreuth, 1988, pp5-40 Ulli Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, London, 1968, pp112-118 Ulli Beier, ‘Seven Seven’, Black Orpheus, August 1967, 22, pp45-48 Bernice Kelly (comp) and Janet L Stanley (ed), Nigerian Artists: A who’s who and bibliography, London, 1993, pp462-468 Twins Seven-Seven, A Dreaming Life: An autobiography of Chief Twins Seven-Seven, Bayreuth, 1999 Twins Seven-Seven, Paintings and Drawings by Twins Seven-Seven, Exhibited at the Italian Cultural Institute, Lagos, 1990
4 Twins Seven-Seven, A Dreaming Life: An autobiography of Chief Twins SevenSeven, Bayreuth, 1999, pp20-21
Untitled 1974 Mixed media on board 79 x 38cm Signed bottom left with monogram and dated â€˜74â€™ Provenance Warren Siebrits, Johannesburg, 2005; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Yusuf Grillo Nigeria 1934 –
Yusuf Grillo was born in Lagos in 1934 and commenced studying fine art at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria in 1955. He graduated in 1960 and the following year completed a post-graduate teacher’s certificate. He and his contemporaries at Zaria galvanised one another in 1958 into organising the Zaria Art Society, arguably the first movement of black artists in sub-Saharan Africa. Their advocated aesthetic, termed ‘Natural Synthesis’, embodied a ‘natural, unforced and unconscious synthesis of European media and techniques with forms, styles and content derived from indigenous Nigerian cultures’.1 The paintings included here reflect Grillo’s engagement with the concept of Natural Synthesis in many respects. His technique and his abstraction of the human form into angular planes of flat colour stylistically recall the aesthetics of many artists working in the international style. Yet there are also references to African sources in the imagery: his subjects are African, his palette resonates strongly with the colours of indigenous Yoruba textiles,2 and his imagery reflects his deep interest in traditional African sculpture. As Grillo explains: ‘I surround myself with traditional pieces of art … I collect them almost compulsively and I study them, I analyse them. … The clear-cut definition of planes … has worked its way into my work.’3 His imagery was in essence portraits of people and he never assumed an overt political stance in his work, even through all the turmoil of post-independence Nigeria. Grillo saw art and painting as a genre distinct from propaganda and activism. In 1964 he noted: ‘The artist as a part of society normally reacts one way or the other to all goings-
1 Sylvester Ogbechie, ‘Zaria Art Society and the Uli Movement’ in N’Goné Fall and Jean Loup Pivin (eds), An Anthology of African Art: The Twentieth Century, New York, 2002, p247 2 Ibid, p248 3 Daniel Olayiyan Babalola, ‘The Awo style: A synthesis of traditional and contemporary artistic idioms in Nigeria’, PhD diss, Ohio State University, p260, quoted by J Kennedy, Contemporary African Artists in a Generation of Change, Washington, 1992, p35
on. This is natural. Everyone does. But I don’t think he needs to (as far as his art goes) make this his concern. Art is now a very individual, personal matter. The artist is no more the anonymous being he used to be. He decides completely on his own what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. Inspiration for art is got from any subject and today in even no subject.’4 Throughout his life he has played a prominent role in government and educational bodies focusing on art and art education. He was for many years the director of the School of Art, Design and Technology of the Yaba College of Technology and for sixteen years served as the president of the Society of Nigerian Artists. A further significant aspect of his work is made up of commissions for mosaics and stained glass for architectural projects. His palette of saturated colours and his angular forms translate naturally into stained glass and he has provided numerous churches with windows. Like many African pioneer painters, he exhibited at the Piccadilly Gallery in London. The oil Two Friends comes from an exhibition at this venue in 1965. He also had two solo shows at the Goethe Institute in Lagos, in 1966 and 1972. His only other two solo shows were at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1971 and at the Commonwealth Institute in London in 1972.
4 Morning Post, Lagos, probably March 1964; quoted by J Kennedy, Contemporary African Artists in a Generation of Change, Washington, 1992, p35
Selected Bibliography D Ola Babalola, ‘The development of Nigerian contemporary art: An interview with Yusuf Adebayo Grillo’, Nigeria Magazine, 54 (4), Lagos, 1986, pp93-102 Yusuf Grillo, ‘Uche Okeke’ in Paul Chike Dike and Patricia Oyelola (eds), Nku din a mba: Uche Okeke and modern Nigerian art, Lagos, 2003, pp171-174 Yusuf Grillo, ‘What is contemporary African art?’ in African Notes (special issue on Nigerian antiquities), Ibadan, 1972 ‘Yusuf Grillo: Interview by Mike Omoighe’ in Paul Chike Dike and Pat Oyelola, The Zaria Art Society: A new consciousness, Lagos, 1998, pp63-65, 87-101 ‘Dialogue with YC Grillo: Painter and art educator. Interview by Gbenga Sonuga’, New Culture, 1 (7), Ibadan, 1979, pp18-20 Bernice Kelly (comp) and Janet L Stanley (ed), Nigerian Artists: A who’s who and bibliography, London 1993, pp229-231 Jean Kennedy, Contemporary African Artists in a Generation of Change, Washington, 1992, pp34-35
Two Friends 1965 Oil on canvas 60.6 x 60.6cm Signed bottom left ‘Y Grillo 65’, on reverse a printed label of the Piccadilly Gallery, London, affixed to bottom centre of frame, with the artist’s name, title and name of purchaser, ‘Trevor Russell-Cobb Esq, October 1965’ Provenance Trevor Russell-Cobb Esq; London art market, 2005; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Trickster 1965 Oil on board 112 x 41cm Signed bottom left ‘Grillo’, inscribed on labels on reverse: ‘Trickster, YAC Grillo, 1965, Lagos, Nigeria’ Provenance Australian art market, 2005; Michael GrahamStewart and Michael Stevenson
Blue Moon 1966 Oil on board 60 x 60cm Inscribed on a label on reverse: â€˜Blue Moon, YAC Grillo, 1966, Yaba College of Tech, Nigeria Yaba Lagosâ€™ Provenance Australian art market, 2005; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson
Ephraim Ngatane South Africa 1938 – 1971
Ephraim Ngatane was born in Maseru, Lesotho, in 1938, and moved with his parents in 1943 to Soweto, Johannesburg, where he lived until his death in March 1971, aged 33. He studied at the Polly Street Art Centre between 1952 and 1954, encountering the loose, free-flowing watercolour technique taught by Cecil Skotnes. In 1955, Ngatane joined the ‘weekend artists’ group’ of Durant Sihlali, where, in contrast to Skotnes’ classes, more naturalistic subject matter was explored using watercolours. Ngatane painted township life in all its forms, from its overcrowded living conditions to social entertainment, sports and memorable events. Stylistically, his masterful command of the watercolour medium displays a painterly sense of abstraction which distinguishes his work from the descriptive styles of most other so-called township artists. Although Ngatane experimented with different techniques, he only started working predominantly in oils in the mid-1960s. Many of his later oil paintings were composed in a much more abstracted style, where his subject matter became fragmented, often to the point where it disintegrated into purely abstracted shapes and colours, forming its own rhythmic balance. As a child Ngatane had contracted tuberculosis and he was admitted to the Charles Hurwitz South African National Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Soweto in 1964, shortly after his second solo exhibition at the Adler Fielding Galleries in May that year. While at the sanatorium, Ngatane met Dumile Feni who had been admitted the year before. Together they completed a number of murals in the sanatorium, of which only one has been preserved. This watercolour, signed and dated 1964, was painted while he was receiving treatment and conveys a sense of the despair induced by the illness. Selected Bibliography Hayden Proud (ed), Revisions: Expanding the narrative of South African art, Cape Town and Pretoria, 2006, p154 Elza Miles, Polly Street: The story of an art centre, Johannesburg, 2004, pp42, 94-97
Sanatorium 1964 Watercolour and gouache on paper 51.5 x 67.5cm Signed and dated bottom left â€˜E Ngatane 64â€™ Provenance Private collection, Johannesburg, 2007; Johans Borman
Welcome Koboka South Africa 1941 â€“ 1997
Mandla Welcome Koboka was born in Johannesburg in 1941, and died there in 1997 at the age of fifty-six.Â He never achieved great commercial success and remains a little-known painter whose work is rarely seen. However, he deserves recognition as one of the pioneering painters in South African post-war abstraction. Koboka attended classes at the Polly Street Art Centre during the 1950s, and was a friend and colleague of Ephraim Ngatane whose stylistic influence is evident in his work. Yet Koboka developed a distinct personal style and painterly language within the genre of so-called township painting which documented daily life in the city of Johannesburg, its townships and the countryside. His style remained similar throughout his oeuvre, and a distinct characteristic of his abstracted figures was his technique of using a palette knife to produce a surface that is gritty and graphic yet with figures that have a weighted monumentality.
Selected Bibliography Elza Miles, Polly Street: The story of an art centre, Johannesburg, 2004, pp95, 126, 130
The Guitar Player Circa 1968 Acrylic on masonite 60 x 44.5cm Signed bottom centre â€˜W Kobokaâ€™ Provenance Adeline Pohl Collection, Johannesburg, 2007; Johans Borman
Dumile Feni South Africa 1942 – 1991
Zwelidumile Geelboi Bxaji Mslaba Feni was born in Worcester in the Cape in 1942, and moved to the Witwatersrand in the early 1950s. He left South Africa in 1968 to live in London, after visiting Nigeria and China, because, as he said in an interview at the time: ‘The Government have given me six months to stay in Johannesburg. Then they say I must go back to where I was born. To the reserve in the Cape. I want to stay in Johannesburg because here is where my friends are and art. I am trying to get a passport for overseas. I want to see America and Europe. Then I want to live in Swaziland. Why do I want to live in Swaziland? Well, because it isn’t my home. So when bad things happen to me there, it won’t hurt me so much.’1 He remained in London until 1978, then moved to New York where he lived until he died in 1991. The contents of his studio are now in the South African National Gallery, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery has a large collection of his drawings dating from his years in exile. Dumile never received formal training as an artist. Although his name is often associated with the Polly Street Art Centre, he only worked intermittently in their studios. However, he was friendly with many of the artists who studied at Polly Street including Ephraim Ngatane, whom he met at the Charles Hurwitz South African National Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Soweto in 1963-64, and who encouraged him to pursue his deep interest in art. In an interview in 1983 in which he stated his thoughts on a formal art education, Dumile recalled that he ‘learned to sculpt not in schools but from his family. “What some people call formal study – which I have a problem with – you know that really depends on
1 Barney Simon, ‘Dumile’, The Classic, 2(4), 1968, pp40–43
your point of view. I learned sculpture from childhood, I am from a family of sculptors. My family – these people were masters in what they were doing. Formal education – anyway the law would not have allowed it”.’2 Nevertheless, he was embraced by the South African art world of the late 1960s. He represented South Africa at the São Paulo Biennale in 1967, and had solo exhibitions at the Durban Art Gallery in 1966 and at Gallery 101 in Johannesburg in 1966 and 1967. Many black artists were inspired by the style of his work, and in many respects he is viewed as the father of the so-called ‘township school’ of artists who explored the experience of urban black South Africans in the years of apartheid. In Artlook in November 1966 he was described as the ‘Goya of the townships’ and this analogy remains entwined with his reputation.3 His quivering line and scratchy style of drawing was admired and much imitated but rarely with the same intensity. As William Kentridge remarked in an interview in 1981: ‘Dumile … did drawings which at first sight looked like down and out scarecrows. But when you came within a few feet of them they would give you a good kick in the guts.’4 Banking Deposit is one of about ten large-scale drawings included in Dumile’s recent retrospective at Johannesburg Art Gallery, and was sketched around 1967 prior to his going into exile in 1968.
Selected Bibliography Prince Dube (ed), Dumile Feni Retrospective, Johannesburg, 2006
2 Eva Cockcroft, ‘Dumile Feni: “I come from a long tradition”’, Art and Artists, June 1983, 12(7), p1 3 Artlook, November 1966, p5 4 Staffrider, 4(1), April 1981, p47
Banking Deposit Circa 1967 Charcoal on paper 243 x 102cm Provenance Grosvenor Gallery, London; Private collection, London, 2008; with Michael Stevenson Exhibited Dumile Feni Retrospective, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Cape Town, 2005 Illustrated Prince Dube (ed), Dumile Feni Retrospective, Johannesburg, 2006, p53 Image ÂŠ Dumile Feni Trust
Ernest Mancoba South Africa 1904 – 2002
Ernest Mancoba grew up on the East Rand of Johannesburg and, after education at local Anglican schools, underwent training to be a teacher at the Diocesan College at Grace Dieu near Pietersburg from 1920 to 1923. He taught there until he received a bursary from the Transvaal Education Department in 1930 for three years of further study at the South African Native College (now the University of Fort Hare) in the Eastern Cape, which he completed in 1935. At Grace Dieu his interest in sculpture had been recognised, and throughout these years he carved in wood and even accepted two commissions for religious sculptures. In 1936 he moved briefly to Cape Town where he was encouraged by the sculptor Lippy Lipschitz, among others, to advance his aptitude for carving. Lipschitz told him about the growing interest in Europe in African art and about Paul Guillaume’s book, Primitive Negro Sculpture, which had a seminal influence on early twentiethcentury European artists. Mancoba’s recollection of visiting the National Library in Cape Town to read that book reminds us of how modern black artists learnt of African art through artists and writers in Paris: ‘People [at the National Library] could hardly understand it, that a black man could have had anything to do in the place, and, even less, that he should have been asking for such a recently known French author. But I argued and finally had the possibility to sit down and read the book, which they kindly brought me. While absorbing what I found in it, which astonished me very much, I began to think about how enriching it would be to have an exchange of ideas with such an open mind, who spoke with so deep respect about the expression of Africans – when I wasn’t even considered as a full human being in my own country.’1 While teaching in the Transvaal the following year, Mancoba renewed his
1 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, p562-563
acquaintance with Gerard Sekoto who also encouraged him to pursue his interest in art. But aside from exchanges with Sekoto, Mancoba was intensely lonely in the realm of art: ‘In South Africa I had not been able to find anyone to discuss the work, apart from a traditional carver from the Ndebele tribe, one or two schoolfellows and the few immigrant artists … who themselves encouraged me to go to Europe. Moreover, certain words of my mother were ringing in my head … “Do not weep, Ernest. Your brothers – you’ll find them in the greater world.”’2 He realised his desire to study in Paris in 1938 when the Bantu Welfare Trust granted him a bursary and loan of £100 to enable him to register at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The circumstances leading to his decision to move abroad illustrate how the colonial perception of the modern black artist rarely extended to art that engaged with the European tradition of painting: ‘The first reason for my leaving South Africa was probably when I understood that I would not be able to become either a citizen or an artist in the land of my fathers, especially after a meeting I had with the Commissioner for Native Affairs in Pretoria, who, after seeing some of my works reproduced, in a newspaper … had decided that I should take part in the upcoming [British] “Empire Exhibition” (Johannesburg, 1936). The idea was, first, to show visitors the production of folkloric art by natives, and, secondly, to develop a whole indigenous art trade by selling all sorts of pseudo-tribal figures for tourists. He offered me a good job with a fine salary, to gather young Africans to provide this kind of traffic. I was shocked and, as politely as possible, refused the proposition. In my daily life I felt more and more humiliated at the conditions made to my people … Thus, I soon understood I would never be able to free enough, in my mind, to express myself as fully as I wished, but would always knock the head against the barriers which the colonial order had set up in my country, wherever I went.’3 2 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, pp564-565 3 Ibid, p563
Through the circle of students in Paris, he met the Danish sculptor Sonja Ferlov (1911-84) whom he married in 1942 while interned during the Second World War. The birth of the apartheid state after the war made his return to South Africa with
a white woman impossible, and they chose to move to Denmark in 1947. It was in Copenhagen that Mancoba’s work was included in the first manifestation of the Cobra movement in an exhibition in 1948. In 1951 Mancoba and his wife returned to France which was to remain their home until their respective deaths. In 1961, when South Africa became a republic, Mancoba renounced his South African citizenship. In Europe Mancoba focused on painting, drawing and printmaking. Over a period of forty years, his imagery of a stylised and abstracted human figure, distilled from the form of the Kota grave effigies of Gabon, gradually disappeared into a field of marks. Elza Miles writes: ‘After Ferlov’s death [in 1984], Mancoba progressively stripped his images of referential material. It appears that he is reverting more and more to a language without boundaries, hence his preference for signs.’4 Yet in the earliest surviving drawings from his student years, his work was already characterised by mark-making and abstraction. He evocatively describes his manner of working: ‘when I make a picture or drawing I’m always aware of the space which is at my disposal. And at the same time I’m aware that the thing which I’m trying to express has to be an organic whole and that it must not look like a section of a vision, but it must be a vision which is integral … One touch leads to another and this touch, if it is colour, one colour calls for another which will answer rightly to be represented in a dignified way; in a way which is acceptable in all senses to its presence. Therefore, when I go step by step, I stand back and look. Each touch must correspond and be acceptable to the whole. And step by step I move until at last the whole is there present and this whole can speak to me and I can listen to the message.’5 Mancoba was not included in any of the standard reference books on South African art and remained unknown here until the early 1990s. In 1994 he visited South Africa, after an absence of fifty-six years, for the opening of Hand in Hand, a retrospective exhibition of his work and that of his wife, held at the Johannesburg Art Gallery and the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. Selected Bibliography Elza Miles, Lifeline out of Africa: The art of Ernest Mancoba, Cape Town, 1994 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews Volume 1, Milan, 2003, pp560-573
4 Elza Miles, Lifeline out of Africa: The art of Ernest Mancoba, Cape Town, 1994, p71 5 Ibid, p48
V5 1990 Ink and wax crayon on paper 29.5 x 41.8cm Signed bottom ‘E Mancoba’ and inscribed ‘V5’ Provenance Mikael Andersen, Copenhagen, 2008; Michael Stevenson
Uzo Egonu Nigeria 1931 – 1996
Uzo Egonu was born in Onitsha, Nigeria, and educated in a local Catholic mission school. In 1942, aged 12, he began art lessons with John Okechukwu, a self-taught art teacher at the Teacher Training College in Onitsha. Okechukwu introduced Egonu to watercolours, clay modeling and still-life study, and showed his drawings to Ben Enwonwu who was then still a pupil of Kenneth Murray. In 1944 Egonu moved to Calabar and, after a brief period at local church schools, was sent to England in 1945, at the age of 13, where he completed his schooling. In 1949, he moved to London and registered at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts where he was able to study typography and printing in addition to art. After his graduation in October 1951 he continued to live in London – aside from a year in Paris in 1953 – although after the death of his father in 1954 his financial existence became precious. Despite this he decided to stay in Europe rather than return to Nigeria because he felt that for his artistic development he needed to be close to the museums and galleries and to be stimulated by fellow artists. In 1959, to advance his skill in drawing, he enrolled as an evening student at St Martin’s School of Art for two years. In 1962 his work was included in the Pan African Council exhibition in London, and in September 1964 he was given his first solo show at the Woodstock Gallery in London. A series of group and solo shows followed into the early 1970s when his emphasis shifted from painting to printmaking. This painting, from the end of his life, reflects his lifelong dislocation between Britain and Nigeria and his thoughts on the diaspora. As Olu Oguibe observes, ‘Although he remained passionately nationalistic, with an unwavering loyalty to the polity of his origin, he was, nevertheless, as British as he was Nigerian, having practically grown up in England.’1 Egonu wrote a long text titled ‘Past and Present in the Diaspora’ – the title of this painting:
1 Olu Oguibe, ‘Finding a place: Nigerian artists in the contemporary art world’ in Simon Ottenberg (ed), The Nsukka Artists and Nigerian Contemporary Art, Washington, DC, 2002, 262
‘Four years ago the thought of Christopher Columbus’ voyage, which culminated in his “discovery” of the Americas, prompted contemplation on the legacy of this discovery. Although usually a history only favours some people, nevertheless the episode may stimulate the minds of both those with opposing views and those whose interest is fulfilled by the event. The defeat of the combined Spanish and French Armada by the British Fleet may not be a welcome memory to the Spaniards and the French, yet the event may activate the minds of their scholars and artists. ‘Spain and Genoa may claim the glory of Christopher Columbus’ voyage and the “discovery” of the Americas – the former having facilitated his voyage, and the latter being his birth place – but the people with the opposite view might say that the consequences of the legacy brought desolation and catastrophe to Africa south of the Sahara, the Incas and the Aztecs. ‘Although, as an artist, one is not cast in the role of a moralist, one feels, nevertheless, that this should not be a barrier to free thinking and inspiration derived from history; this should not prevent one from making a statement through one’s work. ‘It was not the controversy, nor the sentimentalism attached to the consequence of the legacy of “discovery” that provoked one’s feelings to produce works which are inspired by that thought. What aroused one’s feelings was the bewilderment of human behaviour and its contradictions. That thought was the inspiration and led to the visualisation of the event and legacy. In reflecting upon the consequences of this legacy, a factor worth noting is that a strong will power strengthens human staying-power, and this determination is kindled by spiritual faith. To transform this thought into picture: how can one represent spiritual strength and what metaphor befits its expression?’2
Selected Bibliography Olu Oguibe, Uzo Egonu: An African artist in the West, London, 1995 2 Olu Oguibe, Uzo Egonu: An African artist in the West, London, 1995, p159
Past and Present in the Diaspora #14 1991 Acrylic on canvas 154 x 194cm Provenance The estate of the artist; Grosvenor Gallery, London, 2008; Michael Graham-Stewart and Michael Stevenson Illustrated Olu Oguibe, Uzo Egonu: An African artist in the West, London, 1995, p161
Acknowledgements We would like to thank the following people for their assistance in realising this catalogue and exhibition: Mikael Andersen, Lunetta Bartz, Cristabel Briggs, Erica Chidi, Peter Clarke, Tom Culberg, Henrietta Dax, Clementine Deliss, Oliver Enwonwu, Joan Goldsmith, Deborah Greenhalgh, Laurie Farrell, Susan Kismaric, Jackie Loos, Conor Macklin, Marilyn Martin, Julieta Massimbe, Monna Mokoena, Valente Malangatana Ngwenya, Sylvester Ogbechie, John Picton, Warren Siebrits, Bisi Silva, Richard Smith, Paul Underwood, Antony Wiley, and the staff at Michael Stevenson Gallery
Published by Michael Stevenson, Michael Graham-Stewart & Johans Borman ISBN 978-0-620-40582-9 Written by Michael Stevenson and Joost Bosland Editor Sophie Perryer Designer Gabrielle Guy Photography Mario Todeschini Image repro Ray du Toit Printer Hansa Print All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without prior written permission of both the copyright holder and the publishers of the book. Michael Stevenson Hill House, De Smidt Street Green Point 8005 Cape Town South Africa From May 2008 Buchanan Building, 160 Sir Lowry Road Woodstock 7925 Cape Town T +27 (0)21 421 2575 firstname.lastname@example.org www.michaelstevenson.com Johans Borman Fine Art Gallery In Fin Art Building Upper Buitengracht Street Cape Town 8001 South Africa T +27 (0)21 423 6075 email@example.com www.johansborman.co.za Michael Graham-Stewart 38 Old Bond Street W1S 4QW London United Kingdom T +44 (0)20 74 95 4001 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com