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ASPIRE ART is proud to present an iconic, never before seen, painting titled The Poet, by social realist master George Pemba. Painted in 1970, the work is likely a portrait of the great ‘father of Xhosa poetry’ Samuel Krune Mqhayi (1875-1945), who was a close friend of the artist and whom Pemba deeply respected.

George Pemba, The Poet, 1970.

Estimated at R 350 000 – 500 000, this historically significant work will be offered at Aspire’s upcoming live auction in Cape Town on 15 March 2022, alongside key 20th-century, and contemporary artworks from Southern Africa.

Most known and celebrated for his authorship of several stanzas to Nkosi Sikelel’ I-Afrika (God Bless Africa), which was originally composed by Enoch Sontonga in 1927, Mqhayi was an admired intellectual; dramatist, essayist, critic, novelist, historian, biographer, translator, and poet. He wrote numerous books of poetry and prose and is regarded as instrumental in standardising the grammar of isiXhosa and preserving the language in the 20th century.

George Pemba met Mqhayi sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s and the poet made a great impression on him. The artist often visited the poet laureate at his home near King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape. The two became firm friends and in 1941, Pemba completed a portrait of Mqhayi. The work was displayed in the gallery at what is now the University of Fort Hare (originally the South African Native College) and depicted Mqhayi in traditional Xhosa dress – as in The Poet which was painted nearly 20 years later.

LEFT: George Pemba, Portrait of Mqhayi painted 1941. RIGHT: Cover, S.E.K. Mqhayi, Iziganeko Zesizwe Occasional Poems (1900-1943)

Interestingly, Pemba painted a portrait of another prominent Xhosa intellectual in the 1970s, completing The Rev. John Knox Bokwe (late) in 1978. This painting was sold by Aspire Art in October 2021 for R694 180. Bokwe (1855-1922) was a religious leader, educator, journalist, celebrated hymn writer and a central figure in the foundation of the University of Fort Hare in 1916.

George Pemba, The Rev. John Knox Bokwe (late), 1978. Sold for R 694 180 in 2021

George Pemba himself was also a notable writer and penned at least two staged plays; The Story of Nonquase and Ntsikana, the Xhosa Prophet (1968). He was deeply interested in Xhosa history, mythology and literature and portraits of renowned individuals such as Mqhayi and Bokwe attest to his passion and the high regard he had for these important Xhosa literary figures.

The artist George Pemba in his studio.

This significant consignment follows Aspire’s record-breaking sale of George Pemba’s Nongqawuse (The girl who killed to save) for R910 400 in March 2022.

George Pemba, Nongqawuse (The girl who killed to save), 1976. Sold for R 910 400 in 2022

The Poet will be on view at Aspire Art’s showroom in Cape Town from 10 – 15 March at 37A Somerset Road, De Waterkant.

To view the auction and download the catalogue, visit www.aspireart.net

Upcoming Event

Panel Discussion: Legacy of the Lovedale Press

George Pemba, Transkei Woman, 1970. Estimate: R 350 000 – 50 000

On Saturday, 11 March, Aspire Art will be hosting a special panel discussion on the Legacy of the Lovedale Press.

Join in person to listen to Anelisa  Mangcu, Dr Athambile Masola and Sanele Ntshingana talk about the Lovedale Press and the poets, writers and artists who contributed to this legacy. The panel will be steered by Phillippa Duncan.

Date & Time: Saturday, 11 March at 11 am

Address: Aspire Art, 37A Somerset Rd, De Waterkant, Cape Town, 8001

Victory of the Word was founded in 2020 by artist Athi-Patra Ruga and Anelisa Mangcu as their response to the lockdown. The primary focus of VOW is to bring awareness to the Lovedale Press which is celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2023. By highlighting the importance of the press they hope to enable it to remain open, rather than being forced to permanently shutter due to lack of funding and support.

The Lovedale Press has published hundreds of works in its history with covers designed by some of the most well-known black South African artists. These original artworks form part of the archive which is under threat.

Framing the content of this talk is a magnificent pair of portraits painted in 1970 by George Pemba. Titled ‘Transkei Woman’ and ‘The Poet’ these provide the backdrop to the panel and areas of discussion.

For more information, contact Sarah Sinisi at [email protected] DM/ML


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