Sophiatown unveils Sekoto mural

1 November 2004

The recently completed Gerard Sekoto mural “Sekoto in Sophiatown”, painted on the northern exterior wall of the Anglican Christ the King Church, was recently unveiled at a ceremony in the Johannesburg suburb.

The mural, depicting Archbishop Trevor Huddleston walking the dusty streets of Sophiatown, with two children tugging at his cossack, as well as Sekoto’s famous “Yellow Houses”, was painted by 12 apprentice artists under the patronage of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation.

Gerard Sekoto Foundation

This is the seventh mural to be painted, all copies of his works, in memory of Sekoto, with the aim of providing training to young up-and-coming artists, and is sponsored by the De Beers Group. Other murals have been painted in Westdene, a neighbouring suburb of Sophiatown, Mamelodi West outside Pretoria, and Polokwane in Limpopo.

The foundation has in the past 10 years seen 150 to 200 students receive training as artists. Its aim is to paint murals of Sekoto’s works on significant walls.

These hand-picked apprentice artists have had guidance from master artists like Sam Nhlengethwa and Mbongeni Buthelezi, who helped them plan the composition and divide the wall into segments.

The Foundation is also involved in publishing Sekoto’s children’s stories and songs. The books will contain a recorder in the back cover, encouraging children to expand their skills.

Sekoto, Huddleston, Sophiatown

Guests of honour at the unveiling ceremony were Sally Motlana, activist and former resident of Sophiatown, who now lives in Soweto, to which she and her family, along with many Sophiatown residents, were removed in the 1950s and 1960s; Gary Ralfe, MD of De Beers Group; and Marie-Helene, wife of the French ambassador, Jean Felix-Paganon.

Sekoto spent most of his life in France after leaving South Africa in 1947, never to return to his motherland.

Sekoto lived in Gerty Street in Sophiatown for a short while, and painted his “Yellow Houses” in 1940.

Motlana described with nostalgia and affection her time in Sophiatown, recalling Huddleston, the fiercely anti-apartheid stalwart, and how fondly he was looked upon by its residents. He greeted Sophiatowners with “Hello, creature” because, he said, “everyone was created by God”.

Ralfe said he felt lost for words after listening to Motlana, but recounted how as a young man he had read Huddleston’s autobiographical “Naught for your comfort”, and how moved he was by Huddleston’s affection for the residents of the suburb.

He ended his speech with: “Sophiatown forever, viva Sophiatown”, which was greeted with enthusiastic nods by the crowd of around 60 people.

Father Andrew Norton from the Community of the Resurrection in Rosettenville then blessed the mural, and Motlana was asked to unveil a plaque, which will be positioned alongside the mural.

It contains a quote by Sekoto: “There was always the movements of comings and goings and all sorts of happenings. Many little children mixed with the old people visiting the yellow houses. The yellow sun turned the ground and rolling stones into many different colours.”

One of the artists, Ras Esop Tshovu Tshovu, was called in to paint the figure of Huddleston, when other artists were struggling with the depiction. Tshovu Tshovu, who teaches art in Fourways and does commissions for corporates, specialises in portraits and said he found Huddleston “easy to draw”.

“This project made me feel special. I was surprised to feel accepted by the Sophiatown community, who I thought would be a cold community,” he said.

Each artist received a certificate and a book on Sekoto, written by Barbara Lindop, the executive trustee of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation.

“I will frame the certificate, and treasure this book,” said Tshovu Tshovu, clutching his book closely.

Besides being an artist and writer, Sekoto also composed music. Lindop has spent two years bringing to fruition the recording of his music and songs, to hit the music stores in November this year.

The music has been recorded by a group of Soweto musicians, who call themselves “The Blue Heads”, a reference to a set of paintings of the same name by Sekoto. Lindop says the songs were discovered two years ago in his papers.

Sekoto died in 1993 and is buried in Paris.

Source: City of Johannesburg