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The Gerard Sekoto Foundation

Artist Photo

The will of Gerard Sekoto expressed his wish that his Estate could be used to uplift art education for young South African children. He knew that formal art education was not offered in schools during the apartheid era, and he hoped this would be rectified in some way in the future.

Sekoto had lived in voluntary exile in France since 1947. He died in March, 1993. French estate law has it’s own peculiarities, and Sekoto’s status as an exile, living off the State, added to the complexity of this particular situation. As part of a process of trying to have the taxes imposed on his estate, by the French Government, waived, it was suggested a Foundation be set up, into which the monies from his estate would eventually be channelled. It took five years of tenacious pleading from the trustees of this newly formed Foundation, for the authorities to concede a particular exemption. Both the South African and the French Governments became embroiled in this issue. Finally, in 1999, an historic agreement was realised, whereby the French Government waived the taxes, which applied to Sekoto’s estate.

His art collection, numbering over 3000 pieces, was returned to South Africa, and has been loaned by the Gerard Sekoto Foundation to the National Art Gallery in Cape Town. The copyright to Sekoto’s work is housed in the Foundation, to control the use of his reproduced images, and maintain the quality of his reputation. The trustees of the Foundation set about seeking the best way to fulfil the artist’s wish to educate young South Africans about art related issues.

It was decided that the most effective way of bringing art to the widest possible audience, with limited funding available, would be to make murals on school walls, and in the wider community. In order to maintain the highest possible standard of aesthetic achievement, “master” artists would be approached to attend the mural making programmes, to teach and guide pre-selected students, to the finished product.

It was also agreed that the programme would begin by teaching about Sekoto, his life and art. Sekoto is perceived as one of the father figures of black South African Contemporary Art. There remain, however, many people ignorant of their cultural heroes, their achievements and the pride resulting from such knowledge.

WORKSHOP PROJECTS RUN FROM 2000 - 2001

Master Artists Sam Nhlengetwha, Richman Buthulezi, Pat Mutloa, David Koloane were invited to participate in different projects, according to their own work commitments, and time allowances. Amos Letsoalo and ‘Shadow’ Nkabinde have both worked as project managers, with community artist, James Mphahlele also being involved, at different times.

Barbara Lindop has found funding from De Beers, who have been involved in seven projects to date. The Standard Bank has materially assisted the Foundation, since it’s inception, and donates books, from their stockpile, on Sekoto, to each child involved in a project, to keep after the project is completed. The National Arts Council provided financial support for an ambitious project in Lebowakgomo, Northern Province, when two schools, Matsobane Primary and Lehlaga High, made murals during the same weekend.

The programme is devised around consultation with the head of a school, his governing board and teachers. Children are chosen to participate in the programme, according to perceived talent and interest. The programme lasts an average of four days, with the first day being devoted to reading the story of Sekoto’s life, and copying his works with crayons on paper. The master artists guide the participants, teaching them techniques relating to drawing, colour, and aesthetic appreciation.

The second stage is transferring the children’s interpretation onto a prepared wall, in preparation of making the mural. The master artists, combining the compositions of Sekoto’s paintings, with the vision of the young artist, transpose a new composition onto the wall. The prepared walls have all been no less than 3 metres x up to 25 metres. Extraordinary and beautiful artistic interpretations are left, for the community, and subsequent generations to enjoy.

To date, the Sekoto Foundation has travelled to Khaiso township, near Pietersburg, to teach art at the school where Sekoto was formerly a schoolteacher, Khaiso Senior Secondary School. This was followed by a workshop at Nelikgaka pre-primary, Khaiso. Images from Sekoto are well known paintings were re-interpreted by the scholars at Khaiso. The same senior students volunteered their services the following week, at the pre-primary school, where a well-known local fairy tale, was incorporated with landscape paintings by Sekoto, onto the school walls.

The next programme incorporated two schools near the village of Mphahlele, Matsobane Primary and Lelhaga High Schools. Prof. Ezekiel Mphahlele was a friend and colleague of Sekoto. He writes in his book “Africa! My Music” of his discovery of Sekoto’s art, in Paris, and his acquisition of his own Sekoto. It seemed more than appropriate that this weekend should coincide with honouring the two father figures of contemporary black art and literature. To this end the theme for both murals was “Literacy”. De Beers and the Standard Bank donated books to both schools to enable them to start their own libraries.

Both murals re-interpreted Sekoto’s paintings of people he painted, reading. This subject matter was composed around landscapes Sekoto had painted of the Northern Province when he had lived in the area during the 1930’s. The junior group was led by David Koloane and Sam Nhlengetwha, whilst the seniors were taught by Pat Mutloa, Amos Letsoalo and James Mphahlele. Both groups worked from the same material, but guided by different teachers, the results were totally original. Compelling compositions have been left at each school, cared for by those communities, to inspire upcoming generations. The murals are now used as starting points for creative writing exercises history lessons and aesthetic appreciation classes.

“Sophiatown Re-Visited” was the theme chosen for the Westdene Secondary School projects. The school is situated close to the site of the Christ Our King Church, where Trevor Huddleston immortalised the community of Sophiatown in his book “Naught for your Comfort”. Gerard Sekoto lived with his cousins in Sophiatown from 1939 – 1942, and painted images of the aforementioned church, as well as many other, now, historical records of the buildings and the community living there.

Many of the children who participated in this project recalled the stories told to them by their grandparents and parents, of their personal memories of living in Sophiatown. Those residents were forcibly removed by the previous government, and they homes were bulldozed. Only the church and one or two other buildings remain as testimony to the once vibrant community life that existed there. Sekoto’s paintings commemorate this lost history.

Sam Nhlengetwha, Richman Buthulezi and Amos Letsoalo led the group of 30 youngsters aged between 9 and 14 years. The mural was 25 metres long and 3 metres wide, and depicts scenes of Sophiatown as immortalised by Sekoto’s paintings. The school and wider community are fiercely proud and protective of this painting, and outsiders are regular visitors.

A similar concept was followed in the creation of the murals “Eastwood Re-Visited”. This project has recently been completed on the wall of the Mamelodi West Library, near Pretoria. The Sekoto Foundation formed a partnership with the Pretoria Art Museum and the Mamelodi Heritage Forum (MaHeFo), in order to undertake the mural.

Gerard Sekoto returned to his parental home in Eastwood in 1945. He was planning his future, and came home, to prepare for exhibitions to raise money to enable himself to leave South Africa. He planned to go to live in France, and this he was able to do, when he left South Africa in 1947. His Eastwood paintings represent the height of his artistic achievement: he was relaxed and confident, and he painted with vigour and commitment. Portraits of family members and friends abound during this period, and the beauty of the surrounding landscape did not fail to attract his attention. Some of his great compositions date to this period: “Song of the Pick”, Sixpence a Door”, “The Proud Father”, “Young Boy Reading” and “Mine Boy” are a few of his chef d’oeuvres of the Eastwood period.

Sam Nhlengetwha led this project, assisted by members of the MaHeFo community artists group, and Arthur Kokong from the Pretoria Art Museum. Jowi Matlala, representing the MaHeFo, in consultation

with the community, chose children from four schools, representing the four different zones of Mamelodi. This was seen to be a unifying exercise within the community, unifying traditionally hostile groups.

Sekoto’s extended family live in Mamelodi, and the opportunity was taken to honour the contribution Sekoto has made to the artistic heritage of South Africa, by presenting his sister-in-law with a sculpted bust of Sekoto by Reuben Mokoena. The General Manager of Premier Mines, Hans Gastrow, presented this to her and her family at a celebratory tea party, unveiling the murals.

The Sekoto Foundation will return, during the course of this year, to the church of Christ our King, in Sophiatown, to plan a mural suitable to the building and its environment. The incumbent priest, the Rev. Makhoba, has requested that a mural should be made.

Photographic records are made of the entire process of the mural making, by Elisabeth Deliry-Antheaume. The “Eastwood Re-Visited” project was also generously assisted by Plascon paints and the C.N.A.

www.gerardsekotofoundation.com