top of page

Dumile Feni

Artist 194

Dumile Feni


African Guernica

Zwelidumile Jeremiah Mgxaji Mslaba more commonly known as Dumile Feni (born 1942) was a South African contemporary visual artist known for both his drawings and paintings that included sculptural elements as well as sculptures, which often depicted the struggle against Apartheid in

South Africa.

Feni's work often tied to the period of Apartheid in South Africa. He lived in self-imposed exile from 1968 to 1991 based between London, Los Angeles and New York.

He began to draw and paint from an early age though he was never formally taught art at school.

Feni lived during the height of Apartheid. Despite his work not initially being political he was strongly influenced by the struggle of black artistic expression in these years.

He was described while in Johannesburg as the ‘Goya of the townships’. Dumile found his subject matter in the life and events he observed around him. By working primarily with graphic art in monochromatic hues, the artist had the ability and vision to transform the particular into the universal. His works also reflect his deep love of music, especially jazz. And even the disposition of the figures on the page is invested with musical rhythm.

Today’s focus is on his artwork ‘African Guernica’ on Charcoal on newsprint. It was made shortly before he left to London.

The work expresses the social and political anguish and feeling of isolation he felt. It draws reference to Picasso’s iconic work, ‘Guernica’, made thirty years earlier. Feni’s uses the comparison to protest against Apartheid and mirror Picasso’s commentary on the destruction that is caused by civil war.

Both works compare the relationship between humans and animals to show destruction and suffering brought forward by war. He morphs the animals and figures into grotesque creatures. His are more organic in shape in comparison to Picasso’s artwork.

It illustrates how Apartheid was a war zone for the people living within the country and draw international attention.

I’ve added Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ as the last image to compare.


bottom of page