The Early Pioneer Artists of South Africa 

Jabulani Ntuli

4 February 2001 by Andries Loots

In my second article in this series I would like to introduce the artist Jabulani Ntuli.       ( 1898 - 1988 )
Jabulani Ntuli was born in 1898 in KwaZulu Natal near Eshowe at a mission station. where his father belonged to the Anglican Church. He attended the mission school from 1909 to 1914. He started off  being a watchman at a garage,  worked as a domestic worker but it was during his job as a switchboard operator on the KwaZulu Natal coast in 1943 that he started drawing  Zulu life.

If one regards his drawings and watercolours the first impression is one of nearly childlike simplicity but in essence it was created to try and capture the Zulu culture and events of the period. It therefore served to capture important events and produce a historical record of events like the gatherings outside the "kraal " of up to 500 people at a time. The images were almost frozen in time  as  through the lens of a camera capturing people in motion. 

He paid careful attention to fine detail like the fiber of the grass that the huts were constructed of and in the crowd captured  each limb and muscle of each individual. His comprehensive perspective landscapes with people going about  their daily activities,   were unlikely compositions for a rural artist with only one day of art tuition. In his interiors he portrayed objects behind walls as trough through x-ray vision and as though  he wanted to capture the details not immediately visible.

His works were shown to the collector Dr Killie Campbell and she acquired all his work between 1944 - 1950. These works are now in the William Campbell collection at the University of KwaZulu Natal. His first works were relatively small  but Professor Tim Couzens later persuaded him to produce work of a larger format ( 32 x 46,5cm ). In 1966 the Museum of Ethnology at Kriel in Germany had a group exhibition entitled " A Zulu Draws the Zulu Way of Life "

Jubalani Ntuli died on the 16th March 1988 in KwaZulu Natal.  

His works are taken up in various collections: Campbell Collection of the University of Natal,  Zululand Historical Museum, Eshowe, KwaZulu Natal,  Wolfgang Bodenstein Collection, Pretoria; Johannesburg Art Gallery and private collections in Germany.

'Landscape with Zulu Homesteads',
Pecil and Watercolour on paper 25 x 37.2cm
(Wolfgang Bodenstein Collection, Pretoria )
Land and Lives,  The story of early black artists, Human & Rossouw,  Elza Mils ISBN 0798136588
South African Panorama, The Brothers Ntuli,  1967, Schlosser, K and Judson
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