Street Life: Sekoto's $485,000 work is reminder of a nation's troubled history

Next month, Bonhams will be selling a wonderful and historic South African painting, created by the country's greatest black artist - Gerard Sekoto.  It will be auctioned on March 23 as part of its 'South African Art' sale and is likely to realise a huge price.

Sekoto, born in 1913, created the piece between 1942 and 1945.  Entitled 'Yellow Houses, District Six', the painting depicts a scene from District Six in Cape Town shortly before the introduction of Apartheid.

The painting was based on sketches made by the artist.  Sekoto described in detail how he was too fearful to wander far into District Six, making quick sketches of the scenes he wished to capture on canvas.

He also stated that he preferred not to paint in public, finding it intrusive and distracting.  Sekoto left Cape Town in 1945, moving to Pretoria.  He later left South Africa, eventually ending up in Paris.  Author Andre Brink described a man broken by the troubles he had experienced in his home land:

"He seems to wander through the streets around the Place de la Contrescarpe, mumbling, enfolded in his loneliness as in an African blanket. One of the zombies apartheid has let loose upon the world, wandering ghost, sad and terrifying dreamer."


'Yellow Houses, District Six'
Gerard Sekoto's 'Yellow Houses, District Six' - set to sell for £300,000

The painting conveys much about the poverty and unemployment poor - and primarily black - South Africans suffered before and during Apartheid.  It shows the boredom and apathy of the people there, as well as the colourful yet quietly desperate atmosphere in the District.

The painting has a beautiful contrast between the yellow and red houses, and the long afternoon shadows are suggestive of heat.  The piece is a consummate example of African art at its best, and is undoubtedly one of Sekoto's finest achievements.

This wonderful artwork is likely to sell for £200,000-300,000 next month and deservedly so.  The auction itself will be very popular - South African art has been much sought after of late, particularly after the world record sale of Irma Stern's 'Bahora Girl' last year.

Sekoto died in 1993, shortly after his home nation was freed from the grip of Apartheid; but his work continues to remind us of both the beauty and the horror of South African life decades ago.



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