Gerard Sekoto (1913-1993)
Figures in a Shebeen, Sophiatown
signed 'GERARD SEKOTO' (lower centre)
oil on canvas-board
10 x 13in. (25.4 x 33cm.)
Barbara Lindop dates the present picture to Sekoto's Sophiatown period, 1939-1942, and points out the palette suggests 1939, the year he moved to Johannesburg, lodging with his cousins in Gerty Street, Sophiatown, boarding for three months at St. Peter's Secondary School in Rosettenville and exhibiting his work publicly for the first time at the South African Academy.
'When he arrived in Johannesburg Sekoto was welcomed and offered lodging by his nephew Fred Norman, then resident in Gerty Street in Sophiatown. Sophiatown, associated so much today with the black cultural renaissance of the 1950s, was then a freehold working class residential area. The land belonged to a pioneering businessman, Herman Tobiansky, and he had named the suburb after his wife. Like several other such enclaves in early Johannesburg, Sophiatown had come into being with the rapid growth and expansive industrialisation of the Witwaterstrand following the discovery of gold.
Fred Norman and his wife rented a sizeable five-roomed house in Gerty Street. They had no children of their own at the time and were both at work during the week. Sekoto found both Sophiatown and his new home congenial, so much so that decades later in Paris he could still say:
The question in being in Sophiatown, an area reserved for blacks, had not troubled me in the least; on the contrary, the vitality of the area was a great stimulus.... There was a large room at my disposal where I worked on the floor as there was only one table for the family, in the dining room. In my room a big window faced the street, and that permitted me a wide view from which I was later to paint.' (N. Chabani Manganyi, A Black Man called Sekoto, Johannesburg, 1996, pp.27-28.)
We are grateful to Barbara Lindop for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.