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Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi

Artist 193

Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi


Identity within your Roots

Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi ( born 1943) is a South African artist from the rural Hammanskraal utside of Tshwane. She committed herself to art practice and teaching from the 1980s onward, becoming the first black woman to win the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1989.

Her upbringing in a rural area is an important influence on Sebidi’s work. The focus in her early painting on realist depictions of rural South African life not only honours her own family and traditions, but also acts as an important medium through which connections to oral traditions and a vanishing rural culture and way of life can be maintained.

Sebidi experienced this loss in her childhood, after moving to the city to earn a living as a domestic worker. Returning to her village to take care of her grandmother reminded Sebidi of the importance and spirituality of the rural way of life she had come from.

Her work combines depictions of rural scenes with dreamlike elements. Sebidi’s art illustrates a pre-Christian and pre-colonial Africa. The matriarchal elements in her work suggest women’s spiritual and ritual power.

Sebidi’s has a distinctive style that combines colour juxtapositions, symbolism and with stippled pointillism techniques.

I was very lucky to attend to a master class by Mmakgabo Helen Sibidi. One thing that stuck out was the importance and power of cross generational conversation and that it is through hard work that we create art of meaning. There is no shortcut to living.

She really inspired me in how she grounds herself in the people and culture she believes in. She reflects a peace that she has built herself. Her art shares a narrative to the world reflecting how she has found herself in her search of stories. In turn it has become a beautiful tale of her journey.

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