Verso: Label: ‘Song for Sekoto 1913 – 2013
University of the Witwatersrand Art Gallery
25 April – 2 June 2013’
Exhibited: Johannesburg. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 29 May – 29 August 2008. “The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity”.
Johannesburg, “Song for Sekoto“. 26 April- 2 June 2013. Wits Art Museum in conjunction with the Gerard Sekoto Foundation.
Illustrated: Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2008. The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. p. 114 & 115
Lindop, B. (Ed.). 2013. Song for Sekoto – Gerard Sekoto 1913-2013.Gerard Sekoto Foundation. Craighall. P. 114
When Sekoto made his life-altering decision to abandon teaching to become a full-time painter in 1938, he left rural Pietersburg (now Polokwane) in the old Northern Transvaal to pursue his ambition in Johannesburg. There he stayed in Sophiatown, one of only a few freehold areas in the Johannesburg area. It was here that he began his famous depictions of the travails of the black working class, a theme that was to preoccupy him both in South African and in exile.
Sekoto described Sophiatown, which was later to be destroyed under apartheid, as a “theatrical scene” (Manganyi, 1996: 28) and was struck by the vitality of the area and variety of people who lived there. More than likely, the old, withered man with sadness in his eyes in Guga Mzimba, one of the artist’s first works in oils, was someone he met there.
A testimony to Sekoto’s acute powers of observation and draftsmanship, Guga Mzimba seems, at first glance, to be a relatively straightforward, uncomplicated portrait of a man in the twilight of his years. But it is a work of greater complexity: for it is not only a comment on the effects of time on the body, but also a statement about poverty and frugal life under a system that relegated blacks to the margins of society. Besides this, Sekoto also has something to say about the sitter’s psychology. Tired as much by age as by the toil of existence, and robbed of dignity by the hand dealt to him in life, he is enshrouded in dejection and a sense of hopelessness.
A picture of burden, Guga Mzimba is exactly what Sekoto, the humanist and champion of the underclasses, emphasized in his South African period: compassion and great empathy for the downtrodden and marginalised.
by Emile Maurice