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Street Musician in District Six
Gerard Sekoto
Artwork c.1943–1944
Gerard Sekoto’s oil painting ‘Street Musician in District Six’ depicts an individual playing an instrument among onlookers.
Artwork: Gerard Sekoto, Street Musician in District Six (c.1943–44). Oil on canvas. 61 x 50.5 cm. Private collection.
Artist Gerard Sekoto Title Street Musician in District Six Date c.1943–1944 Materials Oil on canvas Dimensions 61 x 50.5 cm Credit Private collection

Street Musician in District Six dates from 1942, eight years before the apartheid government passed the Group Areas Act, which later mandated the demolition of the neighbourhood in the 1980s – the same neighbourhood in which A4 opened to the public in 2017.

“All that I do, even outside of South Africa,” Gerard Sekoto wrote, “is still with the eye, the heart and the soul of the land of my birth.” Today counted among the country’s most celebrated modernists, Sekoto’s paintings transcribed everyday life into images of profound humanity. Writing in 1983 under apartheid’s pall, the art historian Esme Berman championed what she called the artist’s primitive style. “None of the tired academic clichés or timid prettiness which so irked the modern spirits were present in the self-taught painter’s work,” she wrote of Sekoto. “The fearless colour, the unconventional viewpoint, even the awkward handling of familiar forms was refreshingly original and honest.” He took as subject the scenes around him – in Sophiatown, District Six, and Eastwood – impoverished areas designated for people of colour. By the 1950s, all three suburbs had been razed under the Group Areas Act. Sekoto, however, did not witness their destruction – he had left for Paris in 1947. The following year, the National Party was elected and apartheid became state legislation. While he returned often to township scenes in his paintings, Sekoto would never again return to his country. He died in exile in 1993, shortly before South Africa’s first democratic election.

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