The Sekoto exhibition was simply sumptuous

Rory Bester does indeed highlight some lost curatorial opportunities in the Song for Sekoto show (“Sekoto’s song builds up to an imperfect cadence”, Friday, May 31), but I would have been none the wiser had I not read his review. Maybe I am still none the wiser.

The show worked! The sheer messy scale, the unevenness of his work, even those curious, arty 1960s frames. Paintings that had seeped into our visual consciousness over the last couple of decades of the Gerard Sekoto revival kept popping  up – the very originals! – like old friends, with their extended family of previously unseen works.

Sekoto political? Absolutely. And there is no idealisation of his subject matter. Rooms crammed with one table, and its drinkers or musicians, a bed squashed in. Candlelight. Kids barefoot. Women communing on doorsteps, or simply plat-legged on a yard floor … not exactly ladies who lunch. Far more real, and thus far more powerful than any pedantic emphasis on township conditions, and fear of pass raids.

It may well be that further studies and curations can offer a way of appreciating the exile work.

So Sekoto didn’t pull off the loneliness and dissociation of exile in his painting, the sort that formed the springboard for an artist like, say, Picasso. Or peel off into his own trajectory like Ernest Mancoba. And he didn’t push through experimentation or fallow periods to leave a lifelong body of work that ultimately has a rhythm. Lamentable for him – and disappointed viewers.

Nevertheless, there in the Wits Art Museum hung a treasure trove from 1938 to 1947. Sumptuous.

I found myself choosing personal favourites and reasoning why things worked and why they didn’t. If anything, the caricatures gave the characters that were better observed stronger identities. And I swear I could smell the inside of that store with the two women leaning on the counter, the dusty bouquet of grains, soap powders, bolts of shoe-shoe and marshmallow mice …

It may not have been a curator’s curation, but I’ll take the visceral, er, whammy, and be very glad I went (twice) with the busloads of chirping born-frees and the hoi polloi. – Isabel Thompson, Johannesburg

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