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Drawings by Gerard Sekoto

When Gerard Sekoto left South Africa in 1947, he dipped into the unknown and embarked in a self imposed life in exile. Following the advice of his friend and mentor Ernest Mancoba, he elected Paris as his new home.

His Parisian odyssey is firmly rooted in the Latin Quarter with its bustling boulevards, sidewalks cafés and cosmopolitan crowd. Positively inspired by the spectacle of the street, the metro and the nightlife of the Left Bank, Sekoto blossomed while working hard on his art and his newly found freedom. Against all odds and with meager resources, playing the piano and the guitar in jazz clubs, he managed to overcome the challenges of a new life in a strange place and to get exposure for his paintings in Paris.

Sekoto wouldn’t go back to South Africa but was longing to return to African soil and in 1966, he finally found his way to Senegal thanks to an invitation facilitated by Léopold Sédar Senghor. The lights of the African city of Dakar were rapidly eclipsed by the atmosphere of the traditional Diola villages of Casamance where he stayed on for a year. Enchanted by the bucolic scenery, the beauty and vitality of the people, the music and dance of the rituals, Sekoto passionately experienced his African identity and enjoyed an emotional creative surge.

During the next decades in Paris, Sekoto continued to consistently rework earlier themes inspired by his memories from home and to nurture relationships with other Africans from the Diaspora or in exile. He gained a critical reputation in Paris, Rome, Venice, Dakar, London and Amsterdam while maintaining a significant presence on the South African art scene. He became a familiar face in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and a Parisian but he didn’t quite become a French man. He consciously remained an African and was detrmined to paint like one.

The exhibition Exiles celebrates the repatriation to South Africa of a crucial cultural heritage, salvaged from dispersal in European auctions and returned to the country to be researched and later to be made available to academics and the public. The collection features more than two hundred and fifty drawings, exclusive vintage photographs, precious correspondence and private documents. This invaluable ensemble bears a compelling and poignant testimony to the dedication of Gerard Sekoto to his art and opens a window on the many stories and facets of his life in exile, on a journey of self discovery.

With the kind support of Spier and the French Institute of South Africa

19 September – 4 October 2008

gerard sekoto, recollections of sharpeville, watercoulour on board, 32x41cm, 1960