Jan Gerard Sekoto

Jan Gerard Sekoto was born on 9 September 1913 in Botshabelo.

Sekoto taught at Khaiso Secondary School near Pietersburg. In 1938, Sekoto won second prize in a national art competition organised by Ester Bedford at the University of Fort Hare. This encouraged him to leave teaching and move to Sophiatown, where in 1939 he began painting full-time.

Sekoto befriended artists Alexis Preller and Judit Glukman, who taught him to work in oil. Within a short time he started exhibiting his work and had build up a reputation in the Johannesburg art scene. However, Sekoto was restless, and unhappy in the racial and claustrophobic work of Johannesburg. Therefore in 1942, he decided to visit Cape Town. In Cape Town he lived in District Six. That period was one of his most productive and saw the development of his distinctive style. Here he participated in the new group exhibition.

In 1945, Sekoto moved back to the Transvaal, to the black township of Eastwood in Pretoria. 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. 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. He began to take drawing lessons at de la Grande Chaumière. Sekoto is renowned and respected in South Africa for his two-dimensional art. As the son of a missionary, music was a part of his life, he composed his own musical works. In Saint-Germain, his musical abilities were what earned him a living, and he was employed as a pianist purely by chance at L’echelle de Jacob, a trendy nightclub/bar reopened for business after the war. Music became the way that he could pay his living and art school expenses.

Sekoto’s international acceptance began when he joined the Overseas Exhibition of South African Art at the Tate Gallery in London, along 53 white South African artists. Unfortunately, acclaim of the exhibition and his work in London, Belgium, Holland, and Paris, were not enough to secure Sekoto’s reputation.

Sekoto’s situation changed around 1953, where his acquaintance with local supporters such as Raymond de Cardonne and Jean Castel enabled him to join the art.
1963 was a year of successful exhibitions in South Africa. In 1966, he visited Venice, Rome, London and Dakar, which connected him with public and international issues. Impassioned by his return to Africa after 17 years, Sekoto stayed in Senegal for a year, working with fellow artist and friend Wilson Tiberio. He returned to Paris only after learning of the injury of his friend and lover Madame Martha Baillon.

In Senegal Sekoto re-established his emotional and cultural links with Africa, and strengthened his identity. It was during his time in Senegal that the increasingly radical South African government revoked his passport, making his exile mandatory.

His health declined after the death of Martha Baillon.

He continued exhibiting his work periodically, and on 13 December 1989 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Witwatersrand. Sekoto passed away on 20 March 1993.

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