Oil on Canvas
50 x 61cm
Signed: "G Sekoto" (Lower/Right)
Verso: Label: 'Song for Sekoto 1913 - 2013
University of the Witwatersrand Art Gallery
25 April - 2 June 2013'
Inscribed on Frame: "Sekoto"
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 Museumin 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. 116 & 117
Like every person of colour living in the South Africa of the 1930s and 40s, Sekoto was subject to racial discrimination. Although he never joined a political party, this nonetheless shaped him into a firm anti-apartheid stalwart and a person highly sensitive to racial dynamics throughout his life. Sekoto first encountered racial bigotry as a young boy growing up at Wonderhoek, a farm in the Middelburg area, Mpumalanga. Incidents of racial abuse on the part of white farmers and the police against local blacks were common at the time. Sometimes these incidents led to the arrest of black locals by police officers. As Sekoto was later to recall, those arrested were compelled to walk in front of the policemen’s horses, their hooves cutting into the prisoners’ heels (Manganyi 1996: 9). Sekoto never forgot the incidents at Wonderhoek, which he described as “heart-breaking and exaggerated acts of hatred upon human beings” (Mangani 1996: 10) nor did he forget what he called “the evil-minded policemen on horseback” (Manganyi 1996: 10). While in exile, he drew extensively on his memories of South Africa for his painting, including those involving police brutality against black people. In all probability then, Policeman on a White Horse in the Fields, painted when Sekoto was middle-aged, is a work referring to his experience of law enforcement as a child at Wonderhoek.
Although he made a few works of an overt political nature in the 1970s and 80s, Sekoto was rarely the militant artist agitating against the iniquities of apartheid. So, in Policeman on a White Horse in the Fields, rather than a condemnatory image of police brutality, what we have is simply a roughly painted, abstracted representation of a policeman mounted on a horse. Merely hinting at the story informing the work - the figure carries a touch of menace - Sekoto leaves it up to us to complete the picture.
by Emile Maurice
Bibliography: Mangany, N.C. 1996. Black Man Called Sekoto.Johannesburg: Witwatersrand Univesity Press