Gerard Sekoto

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Gerard Sekoto
Born(1913-12-09)9 December 1913
Died20 March 1993(1993-03-20) (aged 79)
Known forPainting, Music
Movementurban black, social realism

Gerard Sekoto (9 December 1913 – 20 March 1993), was a South African artist and musician. He is recognised as a pioneer of urban black art and social realism. His work was exhibited in Paris, Stockholm, Venice, Washington, and Senegal, as well as in South Africa.

Early life[edit]

Sekoto was born on 9 December 1913 at the Lutheran Mission Station in Botshabelo, near Middelburg, Eastern Transvaal (now known as Mpumalanga).[1] He was the son of Andreas Sekoto, a leading member of the new Christian converts. Sekoto was schooled at Wonderhoek, which was established by his father,  a priest and teacher.[2] As the son of a missionary, he experienced music as a part of his life and was introduced to the family harmonium at an early age.

As a child, Sekoto would draw with chalk, paper, and colored pencils.[3] His art skills emerged in his teenage years, when he attended the Diocesan Teachers Training College in Pietersburg. This school, unlike most, featured drawing classes and other craftwork. Grace Dieu had a number of skilled woodcarvers producing sculptures on commission as well as for competitions such as the annual South African Academy exhibition. The sculptor Ernest Mancoba was a close friend of Sekoto's at Grace Dieu, and the two dreamed of going to Europe to attend art school. Ernest Mancoba was also his mentor who encouraged Sekoto to pursue a career in art.[3] Sekoto, though, never fit within the paternalistic, prescribed sculpting style at Grace Dieu, preferring to paint and draw on his own.[4]

Graduating as a teacher from the Diocesan Teachers Training College in Pietersburg he taught at a local school, Khaiso Secondary, for four years. During this time he entered an art competition (the May Esther Bedford) organised by the Fort Hare University, for which he was awarded second prize. George Pemba was awarded the first prize. Sekoto had a secret passion for doing art, but was divided between his love for teaching and art. He would hide his work whenever anyone came near it, and would only show his work to his closest friends. He only let Louis Makenna, Nimrod Ndebele, and Ernest Mancoba look at his paintings.[5]

In 1938 at the age of 25 he left for Johannesburg to pursue a career as an artist. He lived with relatives in Gerty Street, Sophiatown. He held his first solo exhibition in 1939. In 1940 the Johannesburg Art Gallery purchased one of his pictures; it was to be the first picture painted by a black artist to enter a museum collection. In 1942 he moved to District Six in Cape Town, where he lived with the Manuel family. Here he apparently met George Pemba (1912–2001), (qv.) who was visiting from Port Elizabeth.[6] In 1945 he moved to Eastwood, Pretoria. During this time, Sekoto lived with his mother, stepfather, and brother. It has been said that some of Sekoto's most beloved work is from this time, and has been deemed ''the golden years of his art''.[7] The reason being that this was the last body of work he completed in South Africa, before going to Paris.[7]


"Mother and Child", 1959
" Mother and Child", 1959

In 1947 he left South Africa to live in Paris under self-imposed exile. It is said that when Sekoto departed from South Africa, the people that were familiar with his work felt a great loss from him leaving.[3] The first years in Paris were hard, and Sekoto was employed as a pianist purely by chance at l'Echelle de Jacob ("Jacob’s ladder"), a trendy nightclub that had reopened for business after World War II. Here he played jazz and sang "Negro spirituals", popular French songs of the period and some Harry Belafonte. Music became the way that he could pay his living and art school expenses.

During his time in Paris, Sekoto was interviewed by a man named Chabani Manganyi. Manganyi describes Sekoto as being ''life-loving'', and states that ''The Genius of Gerard Sekoto remains wide open''.[8]

Between 1956 and 1960, several of Sekoto's compositions were published by Les Editions Musicales. 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. In 1966 he visited Senegal for a year.

Sekoto's paintings became political in the 1970s due to apartheid in his home country. In 1989 the Johannesburg Art Gallery honoured him with a retrospective exhibition and the University of Witwatersrand with an honorary doctorate.[9] He died on 20 March 1993 at a retirement home outside Paris.

Artistic style[edit]

It has been stated that Sekoto was a pioneer for South African artists. One way that Sekoto has impacted South Africa is through the social perspective provided through his artworks. One author states, ''It is important to note that these pioneer artists gave prominence to the sociological circumstances of the urban black, and that they were indeed the first artists to introduce the human situation into South African art from this perspective''.[10]

During his exile in Paris, Sekoto did many drawings and photography. His drawings depict the places he visited and moved too during this time in his life. The photographs he captured were black and white and are of himself playing the guitar or piano.[11]

Sekoto's paintings can be found at the following galleries:[12]

Well-known works by year[edit]

  • 1939
    • "Poverty in the midst of Plenty" - Watercolour and pastel on brown paper
    • "Interior Sophiatown"
    • "Lutheran Church at Botshabelo"
  • 1940
    • "Migrant Workers" - Gouache on paper
    • "Yellow Houses"
    • "The Soccer Game"
  • 1942
    • "Interior with Woman" - Oil on canvas
    • "Three Women"
    • "Three figures with Bicycle Sophiatown" - Oil on canvas board
    • "The Miners"
    • "Cyclists in Sophiatown"
  • 1944
    • "Prison Yard"
  • 1945
    • "The Wine Drinker"
    • "Prisinors Carrying a Boulder"
    • "Portrait of Cape Coloured School Teacher - Omar"
    • "Children Playing"
    • "Houses: District Six"
    • ''The Gossips'' - Signed watercolour on paper
  • 1946
    • "Women and Child - Eastwood Pretoria"
  • 1947
    • "Mine Boy - Oil on canvas board"
    • "Sixpence a Door" - Oil on canvas board
    • "Song of the Pick" - Oil on canvas board
    • "Mary Dikeledi Sekoto"
    • "Self-Portrait"
    • "Portrait of Anna, The Artist's Mother"
    • "Portrait of a Young Man Reading"
    • "Outside the Shop"
    • "Beyond the Gate"
    • "The Donkey Cart, Eastwood"
    • "The Proud Father, Manakedi Naky on Bernard Sekoto's Knee"
    • "The Artists Mother and Stepfather at Home in Eastwood"
  • 1949
    • "Eye Glasses" - Charcoal on paper
    • "Sore Eye" - Charcoal on paper
    • "The Black Beret" - Charcoal on paper
    • "Paris; Pont Marie"
  • 1953
    • "Besotho Women"
  • 1955
    • "Woman and Children"
  • 1959
    • "Rider on Horseback" - Oil on canvas
  • 1960
    • "Blue Head" - Gouache on paper
    • ''Woman's Head'' - Signed gouache/paper
  • 1961
    • "Jazz Band" - Oil on board
  • 1963
    • "Woman's Head"
    • "Township Gossip"
  • 1968
    • "The Three Figures" - Gouache on paper
  • 1971
    • "Township Scene"
  • 1975
    • "Woman with a Patterned Headscarf"
  • 1978
  • 1979
    • "The Bull" - Oil on canvas
    • "Portrait of Woman" - Oil on canvas board


  • Barbara Lindop, Gerard Sekoto, Randburg: Dictum Publishing, 1988
  • Barbara Lindop, Sekoto: The Art of Gerard Sekoto, London: Pavilion, 1995, ISBN 978-1-85793-461-8
  • N. Chabani Manganyi, A Black Man Called Sekoto, Witwatersrand University Press, January 1996, ISBN 978-1-86814-291-0
  • Spiro, Lesley, Gerard Sekoto: Unsevered Ties, Johannesburg Art Gallery, 1 November 1989 – 10 February 1990, The Gallery (1989), ISBN 978-0-620-14213-7
  • Chabani Manganyi, I Am an African: The Life and Times of Gerard Sekoto, Witwatersrand University Press; illustrated edition (1 August 2004), ISBN 978-1-86814-400-6


  1. ^ John Peffer, Art and the End of Apartheid, University of Virginia Press, 1991, p. 2.
  2. ^ "South African artist Gerard Sekoto is born | South African History Online". Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Cole, Thomas (1 December 2015). "Boy and the Candle: Gerard Sekoto". JAMA. 314 (21): 2218–9. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.12119. PMID 26624812.
  4. ^ Elizabeth Morton, "Grace Dieu Mission in South Africa: Defining the Modern Art Workshop in Africa." In S. Kasfir and T. Forster (eds), African Art and Agency in the Workshop, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013, 50-2.
  5. ^ Eyene, Christine (5 July 2010). "Sekoto and Négritude: The Ante‐room of French Culture". Third Text. 24 (4): 423–435. doi:10.1080/09528822.2010.491373. S2CID 144970684.
  6. ^ "Gerard Sekoto - Revisions". Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  7. ^ a b McGee, Julie (2006). "Within Loving Memory of the Century: An Autobiography/Gerard Sekoto: 'I am an African'": 10, 90–91, 95–96. ProQuest 220961989. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Ngwenya, Thengani (5 March 2002). ""Making history's silences speak": An interview with N. C. Manganyi, 5 March 2002, University of Pretoria": 428–437. ProQuest 215619956. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Lesley Spiro, Gerard Sekoto: Unsevered Ties, Johannesburg Art Gallery, 1989, p. 60.
  10. ^ Jager, E. J. De (1 January 1987). "Contemporary African art in South Africa". Africa Insight. 17 (3): 209–213. ISSN 0256-2804.
  11. ^ "Drawing the life experience". The Sunday Independent. 5 October 2008. p. 27. ProQuest 431140392.
  12. ^ Lindop, Barbara (1988). Sekoto: The Art of Gerard Sekoto. Trafalgar Square; First edition (1 September 1995). pp. XV. ISBN 185793461X.
  13. ^ "Collection - Gerard Sekoto", Philadelphia Museum of Art, Online website, Retrieved 29 May 2020.

External links[edit]