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Neglected Artists

Andries Loots  18 June 2000

I have had  numerous requests to repeat an article that I wrote for the newspaper in 1981 about our Neglected Artists. 

Jabulani Ntuli ( 1898 - 1988 )South Africa’s first Black artists never worked in trouble free areas and surroundings and their work was neglected in historical context. They were prohibited from moving around and settling freely where they wanted to. Black art at this stage was also regarded by bystanders as consisting of claypots and wooden carved artifacts.

 The artists can be divided into different periods in the art historical context of South Africa’s history.

The pioneers were Jabulani Ntuli ( 1898 - 1988 ) , Simoni Mnguni ( 1885 - 1956 ), Gerard Bengu ( 1910 - 1990 ), John Koenakeefe Mohl ( 1903 - 1985 ), Ernest Mancoba ( 1904 - ), Gerhard Bengu ( 1910 - 1990 ), George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba ( 1912 - ) and Gerhard Sekoto ( 1913 - 1993 ). These artist's work was mostly natural and often illustrative. Some of the works form a historical catalogue of events.

 

George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba ( 1912 - ) Gerhard Sekoto ( 1913 - 1993 )
There after came artists like Dr. Seoka Phutuma ( 1922 - 1995 ), Gladys Mgudlandlu ( 1923 - 1979 ), Jackson Hlungwane ( 1923 - ), Michael Zondi ( 1926 - ), Peter Clarke ( 1929 - ), Selby Mvusi ( 1929 - 1967 ), Eli Kobeli ( 1932 - 1999 ), David Mogano ( 1932 - ), Eric Ngcobo ( 1933 - 1987 ), David Koloane ( 1938 - ), Noria Mabasa (1938 - ). It was especially the work done by the artist Cecil Skotnes and centres like the Polly Street Art Centre which was established in 1952, that helped with the awakening of an interest in art among the urban black youth. Here artists were made aware of western techniques and mediums. During the late fifties items of intensely humanistic figurative expressionism were exhibited by a number of artists in group exhibitions. In 1960 the Centre moved to Soweto and was renamed the Jubilee Art Centre. Lucas Sitole ( 1931 - 1994), Sydney Kumalo ( 1935 - 1988 ), Ezrom Legae ( 1938 - 1999 ), Ephraim Ngatane ( 1938 - 1971 ), Durant Sihlali (1935 - ) and Leonard Matsoso ( 1950 - ) are only a few of the success stories of this centre.
Peter Clarke ( 1929 - ) Gladys Mgudlandlu ( 1923 - 1979 )

Dr. Seoka Phutuma ( 1922 - 1995 )The sculptors were the first to establish a truly professional image with Sydney Kumalo ( 1935 - ) and Michael Zondi ( 1926 - ) becoming the first Black sculptors to represent South Africa formally at an international exhibition in Venice in 1966. The next year saw the drawings of artist Mhlaba Zwelidumile Mxgazi ( 1942 - 1991 ) included in the Sao Paulo Biennale. In 1968 Lucas Sitole represented South Africa at this event with his sculptures and in 1973 Leonard Matsoso was awarded a special prize for drawing.

Sometimes Biblical and Christian themes were used as a source of inspiration, but in these cases they were interpreted in a personal way. This applies especially to artists who had close ties with missionaries or attended Christian Schools and teaching facilities. The Rorke’s Drift Centre which was established in 1962 played a very important role. This influence can clearly be seen in the work done by artists like Dan Radgoathe ( 1937 - ), Azaria Mbatha ( 1941 - ), John Muafangejo ( 1943 - 1987 ) and Cyprian Shilakoe ( 1946 - 1972 ) who all studied here. 

 

Dan Radgoathe ( 1937 - ) Sydney Kumalo ( 1935 - ) John Muafangejo ( 1943 - 1987 )

Artists were taught in various mediums but it was especially the graphic mediums like woodblock-and linocut printing which were the most common. It is notable that the style and content of the work by these artists differed from their counterparts in the cities in as far as they concentrated more on the tribal and religious imagery in a rural context.

When we look at a concept like Township Art, we refer to the work that was done by artists who lived and worked in the townships. The background of suppression and poor living conditions were very well documented by these artists in their art and there were always images of events in and around their township, like the drawings of Dumile ( 1942 - 1991 ). There was no specific style to this movement as every artist expressed himself in a way he saw fit. Artists like Durant Sihlali ( 1935 - ), Ephraim Ngatane ( 1938 - ), Julian Motau ( 1948 - 1968 ), David Mbele ( 1942 - ) and Hargreaves Ntukwana ( 1938 - 1998 ) formed part of this group. This movement can be seen as one of the most original movements of the South African Art History as it developed from out of the artists themselves without external  influence.

Some artists re-discovered their roots and started to move into the more mystical and personalised imagery. Louis Maqhubela ( 1939 - ), Winston Saoli ( 1950 - 1995 ), Jo Maseko ( 1940 - ), Cyprian Shilakoe ( 1946 - 1972), Dan Rakgoathe ( 1937 - ), Fikele ( 1942 - ) and Lucky Sibiya ( 1942 - 1999 ) all worked in this genre and in one way or the other personalising their feelings in mythological images.

After 1970 a group of artists appeared, each with his or her own individual style. Times and social conditions started changing and art buyers started taking notice of the works produced by Black Artists. This helped in creating an identity and as the demand grew higher, the artists started venturing into full time careers.  Artists like Tommy Motswai ( 1963 - ), Helen Sebidi ( 1943 - ), Thomas Kgope ( 1954 - ), Cyril Manganyi ( 1959 - ), George Mazimba ( 1959 - ), Tony Nkotsi ( 1955 - ), and Peter Sibeko ( 1954 - ) became successful commercial artists.

1976 Saw the ultimate in Black Art development which would change the art scene in South Africa forever. Riots and unrest in the Townships started all over the country. Artists were trapped in a world of violence. The  Resistance Art movement was born. The artists felt that although they were not part of the physical struggle they had to do something to help fight the injustices. They took up paint and brushes as weapon against the oppressor. Artists like Billy Mandini ( 1967- ), Paul Sibisi ( 1948 - ), David Koloane ( 1938 - ), Avashoni Mainganye, Lucas Seage ( 1956 - ), Tyrone Appoliss ( 1957 - ) and Willie Bester ( 1956 - ) were all seen as resistance artists. They didn’t see art as natural and objective but as a weapon against oppression.

Many people worked hard to promote the works of the Black Artists and to show society that Art is Art no matter who made it. Exhibitions like " The Neglected Tradition ( 1988 ), Gerard Sekoto - Unserved Ties ( 1989 / 90 ), Images in Wood ( 1989 ), Retrospective - George Pemba ( 1991 ) " were all staged to set the record straight.

Louis Maqhubela ( 1939 - ) Willie Bester ( 1956 - )
- The Collectors Guide to Art and Artists of South Africa, Tai Collard, Twenty Two Press,
ISBN. 0 620 23309 54
- Art at Auction in South Africa, 1969 - 1989, Stephan Welz,  ISBN. 0 86852 100 1
- Art in Online, An introduction to South African art, Merle Huntley,  Oxford University Press,
ISBN. 0 19 570670 6
- The Dictionary of South African Painters and Sculptors, Grania Oglivie,  Published Everard,
ISBN 0 620 12663 9
- Art & Artists of South Africa, Esme Berman, ISBN 1 86812 345 6
- Land and Lives, Elza Miles, ISBN 0 7981 3658 8
- IMAGES OF MAN, Contemporary South African Black Art and Artists,  EJ De Jager,  Fort Hare University Press,  First Edition 1992,  ISBN 1-86810-015-4
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