These are only some of the great Visual Artists South Africa has produced.

Gerard Sekoto (1913 – 1993)

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Sekoto is renowned and respected in South Africa for his two-dimensional, mostly oil art. A lesser known fact is that he could play several musical instruments. As the son of a missionary, music was a part of his life, and he was introduced to the family harmonium at an early age.

During the 1960’s he occupied himself full-time with preparation for exhibitions in the United States and Europe. In 1961, his work was exhibited at the Harmon Foundation of New York, and was selected for a UNESCO exhibition in the near future. His work was shown at the Gallery-XPO in the Polley Arcade in Pretoria and at the South African institute of Race Relations in Durban. In 1966, he visited Venice, Rome, London and Dakar, which connected him with public and international issues. Impassioned by his return to Africa after 17 years, Sekoto stayed in Senegal for a year, working with fellow artist and friend Wilson Tiberio.

In Senegal Sekoto re-established his emotional and cultural links with Africa, and strengthened his identity. It was during his time in Senegal that the increasingly radical South African government revoked his passport, making his exile mandatory. In 1968, he was awarded a diploma by the jury of the ‘XIX Grand Prix International de Peinture de Deauville’, and in 1978, he was acclaimed as “our first great African Impressionist” for his Homage to Steve Biko. He continued exhibiting periodically, in ‘89 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Witwatersrand. Sekoto passed away on 20 March 1993. The Gerard Sekoto Foundation was established to channel monies from his estate into Arts education as was his dying wish. The foundation was responsible for the repatriation of 3000 artworks from Paris France, this after 5 years of the trustees pleading with French authorities. The Artworks are now housed at the National Art gallery in Cape Town under loan From the Foundation.

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Jackson Hlungwani (1923 – 2010)

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Jackson Hlungwani was born to a Shangaan migrant worker who taught him to carve household objects, Hlungwani began carving full-time after his career as a miner left him without a finger following an industrial accident. He lived in a village near Elim and is one of the most critically acclaimed South African artists, he was best known for his carvings of fish and themes related to fish and their surroundings.

A really interesting character, he had started his own Church combining traditional elements from his Tsonga heritage with those of his Christian beliefs in his personalised spiritual philosophy. These ideals are also the source of the images and the inspiration for his other sculptures. Jackson Hlungwani’s work has played an impressive role in heritage preservation as his art has inspired artists such as John Baloyi, whose gigantic Godzilla Single wood sculpture towers The Constitutional Hill stairs allowing for conversations on Traditional African carving and sculpture methods.

Since 1995, an entire room in the Johannesburg Art Gallery has been dedicated to Hlungwani’s work, today his work can be found in numerous commercial galleries and private collections both in South Africa and abroad.
You can read more on his life here.

Dumile Feni (1942 – 1991)

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Born in Worcester, South Africa 1942, Dumile Feni Travelled to Johannesburg and found work at a sculpture and pottery foundry. With the possibility of facing deportation and the need to keep productive, Dumile opted for voluntary exile to London. In 1979 he decided to go to the United States. He journeyed first to Los Angeles and then New York, where he spent the last decade of his life. Although Dumile did exhibit in New York, his income derived mainly from designing record covers, posters, calendars and illustrations in books. In 1991, shortly before his planned return to South Africa, he died from heart failure while shopping at his favourite music store, Tower Records in New York. His body was returned to South Africa and he is buried in Johannesburg.

He was affectionately known as the ‘Goya of the townships’ likening his skill and probably his importance to Spanish romantic painter Franscisco Goya, who is considered a pioneer of sorts in art history classes.

It is important to note the incredible Heritage restoration work done The owner of gallery Momo, Monna Mokoena who has helped repatriate some of Dumile Feni’s Artworks from a Foundry Abroad, where they had been left after his passing. Justice Albie Sachs seems to have done quite a bit for the preservation of Feni’s work as well, some of the Artworks are kept at the constitutional court in Braamfontein its easy to assume this is because of Albie Sachs’ involvement.
See some of the work here.

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Thami Mnyele (1948 – 1985)

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Thamsanqa (Thami) Mnyele was a South African artist associated with the anti-apartheid politics of the African National Congress and the Black Consciousness Movement. His artistic career took off in the 1970s when he produced works dealing with the emotional and human consequences of oppression.
Born in Alexandra, in Johannesburg, he was taken to a village boarding school to escape the Alexandra township crime. While there he learnt to draw, a skill which he maintained throughout his schooling and led to his hiring as a graphic artist by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. Later, He became inspired by the ideas of the Black Consciousness Movement, and he was inspired by their fight for equality and racial pride.

Thami Mnyele is the quintessense of the revolutionary artist, he is quoted to have said: “For me as craftsman, the act of creating art should complement the act of creating shelter for my family or liberating the country for me people. This is culture.” Thami appreciated Art’s service to humanity more than he did the vocation of it. He moved to Botswana in ’79 and Joined Medu Art Ensemble, there he an Avid pamphleteer, with Friend Poet Wally Serote he organised a conference titled ‘Culture and Resistance’ in 1982. Apparently it was during his time in exile that he conceptualised the first drafts of what we know today as the green, Yellow and Black African National Congress logo. He went to guerrilla camps in Angola and studied their tactics, he was THAT serious about the revolution… on this he is quoted to have said “To take part in the African revolution, it is not enough to write revolutionary songs; you must fashion the revolution with the people. And if you fashion it with the people, the songs will come by themselves and of themselves.”

It is important to understand his take on Inspiration, revolution and the artist and how these 3 are intrinsically linked. His legacy is kept alive by a foundation based in the Netherlands, the Thami Mnyele Foundation offers artist residences to African Artists.
Check the Thami Mnyele Foundation Website by clicking here.

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Ephraim Ngatane (1931 – 1971)

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Ephraim Ngatane’s work epitomizes the period where the first professional African Artists emerged. These artists were mainly concerned with the social conditions of their segregated settlements in the newly found city of Gold. These artists were Polly Street Art Centre in the 1950’s. Ngatane studied painting at the Centre between ’52 and ‘54, under Cecil Skotnes. His experience of the ghettos, shantytowns and townships of the Witwatersrand formed the focus of his work. Eventually, Ngatane went on to teach at the centre.

Ephraim Ngatane inspired notably, Dumile Feni, Louis Maqhubela and Ben Macala – Those with enough Art Knowledge write of how Ngatane’s concern was for an often politically charged, though equally often celebratory, documentary realism. He developed an individual approach to the painting of township scenes using watercolour and later, in the mid 1960s, oil paints. His scenes were accurate recordings of specific places in the township e.g. his painting Orlando. In 1960, Ngatane’s work was publicly shown for the first time in the ‘Artists of Fame and Promise’ Exhibition, at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

On 2 January 1963 Ngatane held his first solo show at the Adler Fielding Gallery and in 1964 he held his second exhibition in Johannesburg. During this time, Ngatane made ends meet by painting ceramic pots at the Majolica Pottery in Doornfontein, Johannesburg.

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From documentary realism to an abstract painting, Ngatane was an artist with the great ability to explore different registers in art. “In his Abstract paintings, he fragmented the forms of the houses and people to the point where they disintegrate into amorphous shapes over which he has superimposed a rhythmic grid of lines to intertwine the elements of the image…” Clearly someone with some knowledge in Art criticism wrote that dizzying phrase. Another register explored was the politically charged use of religious symbolism, his influence here can be seen in the often Politically charged artworks of Sikelela Damane and Ayanda Mabulu.

What defines the importance of Ngatane’s work, as well as his influence on his contemporaries, is its uncompromising concern for the gritty and atmospheric representation of township experience in the South African context of the time. Apart from being a painter whose importance in the development of South African traditions is increasingly acknowledged, Ngatane was also an accomplished alto-jazz saxophonist.

If you have think of anyone who should be on this list, please let us know.

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