Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi: Unseen works in 'Ntlo E Etsamayang' (The Walking House) at UJ Art Gallery

Apr 6 - May 17 2024       University of Johannesburg Kingsway Campus, Auckland Park
In 1991, before the dawn of South Africa's first democratic elections, the art of Marapyane-born Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi took her to Sweden. There, she was set to exhibit a series of works to facilitate communication between Sweden and her home country. But the pieces were lost without a trace, leading to more than three decades of grief and unanswered questions.

It is remarkable that 32 years since their disappearance, 28 of Sebidi's artworks were found in the attic of Nyköping Folk High School in Sweden and have since returned home. These long-lost treasures will be shown to the public for the first time in Ntlo E Etsamayang (The Walking House) at UJ Art Gallery at the University of Johannesburg campus in Auckland Park. 
Step into Sebidi's world in Keiaha Ntlo E Tsamayang (The Walking House). Photo: UJ Art Gallery. 
Step into Sebidi's world in Ntlo E Etsamayang (The Walking House), on show at UJ Art Gallery. Photo: UJ Art Gallery.

Sebidi tells the show's co-curator Gabriel Baard, “I feel that [the artworks] were hidden for this communication to be extended.” This suggests, as Baard notes, that if her works had been exhibited and returned to her in 1991, "they would most certainly have been sold and the communication ended. This body of work, brought into the world just before the dawn of our democracy and returned 30 years later, is a portrait of humanity in a kaleidoscopic montage of political turmoil, lost for three decades. It represents a moment of antipodal communication frozen in time that is perhaps more poignant today than ever.”

A trailblazing South African artist, Sebidi's work rouses that which is most ancient and enduring and offers a vision for the future. As she sees it, she's here to teach people to see their lives and understand themselves. The exhibition's title draws on the words of her beloved grandmother, who said: "It is you I am building into a walking house destined for where our sun sets and rises to houses that, like you, are built from hard labour. It is here you will knock on the door of each house and be received." 
Up close and personal with Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi. Photo: UJ Art Gallery.
Up close and personal with Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi. Photo: UJ Art Gallery.

The works in Ntlo E Etsamayang (The Walking House) represent a pivotal juncture in Sebidi's practice; a stylistic transformation that is part figuration, part abstraction, yet continuously seeking to escape the boundaries of both. The artworks pulsate with energy, communicating Sebidi's unbounded search into the relationship between humanism and spiritualism as they relate to the contemporary black African lived experience. 

While she is not one for accolades, her track record is most impressive. In 1989 she was the first black woman to win the Standard Bank Young Artist award and she was recognised as a "national treasure" when, in 2004, President Thabo Mbeki awarded her the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver. 

Ntlo E Etsamayang (The Walking House) opens at UJ Art Gallery (on the university's Kingsway Campus) on Sat, Apr 6. The UJ Art Gallery will be hosting five guided walkabouts of the exhibition on Wed, Apr 10, Sat, Apr 13, Sat, Apr 20, Sat, May 4, and Sat, May 11. Each walkabout will be accompanied by a guest. Book your spot here



Open 09:00-16:00. Closed Sat, Sun. Apr 6 2024 - May 17 2024
UJ Art Gallery
University of Johannesburg Kingsway Campus, Auckland Park

Price/Additional Info

Free entrance

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