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Biography of Gerard SEKOTO

South Africa > Arts : Gerard SEKOTO

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Born on 09/12/1913 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Gerard Sekoto born December  9, 1913-died March 20, 1993) was a South African artist and musician .He is acknowledged as one of the most important artistic figures in the development of South African contemporary art. He moved to Paris in 1947 and lived in France for the rest of his life, however he still painted primarily South African subjects in European styles such as Impressionism, Cubism, and Orphism.

His achievements as an artist are widely known both in South Africa and internationally, and has been honoured for his works with awards from the French government and an honorary doctorate from the University of the Witwatersrand.

But what was not known until 2002 was that Sekoto had also written music and lyrics in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1946 and 1947 he held a number of successful exhibitions and began to make plans to move abroad. It was in 1947, just before the Afrikaner Nationalist party came to power, when Gerard Sekoto left South Africa for Paris. His exile was heavily influenced by his perception of the lack of potential freedom and growth as an artist in South Africa.

When he arrived in Paris, Sekoto faced the hardships of adapting to another culture. He was confronted with the reality of a world where black and white people could coexist indifferently of each other's race. With this began his realization that South Africa was a country conditioned by colonial racism.

Sekoto is renowned and respected in South Africa for his two-dimensional art. A lesser known fact is that he could play several musical instruments. As the son of a missionary, music was a part of his life, and he was introduced to the family harmonium at an early age. Further, he composed his own musical works. In France his musical abilities were what earned him a living, and he was employed as a pianist at L'echelle de Jacob (Jacob's ladder), a trendy nightclub/bar reopened for business after the war.

Between 1956 and 1960, several of Sekoto's compositions were published by Les Editions Musicales, and Sekoto played piano and sang on several records. He composed 29 songs, mostly excessively poignant, recalling the loneliness of exile yet displaying the inordinate courage of someone battling to survive in a foreign cultural environment.

His earlier works depict the vibrancy and tensions of the townships during his formative years when he lived in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, District Six in Cape Town, and Eastwood, Pretoria before they were bulldozed by the apartheid government in the 1950s and 1960s.

While in France, where he died in 1993, Sekoto re-worked many of his subjects and explored different themes, all characterised by a deep sense of humanity.

His paintings, which were returned to South Africa through efforts of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation, are now housed at the University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries and at the South African National Gallery, Cape Town, are a historical record of a now extinct way of life.

Towards the end of his life, Sekoto's art increasingly gained recognition mainly through the pioneering work of Barbara Lindop, whose research brought to life many paintings thought to have been lost. Through her correspondence with Sekoto, she was able to confirm details of his life before his death.

Gerard Sekoto has been described as: "South Africa's pioneer of urban black art and social realism". Following his death in 1993, The Gerard Sekoto Foundation was formed. It was Sekoto's expressed wish that his Estate should 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 The Foundation goes some way to rectify the wrongs of the past.


Last update : 10/27/2010

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