Mon, 17th Jul 2017 17:00

Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 134
Lot 134 - Dumile Feni, Children under Apartheid


Dumile Feni, Children under Apartheid
Children under Apartheid


Artwork date: 1987
Signature details: signed and dated
Exhibited: United Nations, 1986–1989.

Sold for R1,250,480
Estimated at R800,000 - R1,200,000

Condition Report

Slightly oxidised, small tears along paper edges, surface dirt and some smudging, staining in areas, minor cockling, not laid down.

Please note, we are not qualified conservators and these reports give our opinion as to the general condition of the works. We advise that bidders view the lots in person to satisfy themselves with the condition of prospective purchases.



Artwork date: 1987
Signature details: signed and dated
Exhibited: United Nations, 1986–1989.


247.5 x 133 cm

During the time that Moli Nkosi, a South African delegate, worked with the UN in the United States, he participated in a campaign against child abuse – in accordance with this he commissioned Feni to make two works in the mid 80’s. This piece then hung in the UN building in New York from 1986–1989. Feni then loaned the work to various colleges and institutions around the New York precinct. This work remained in New York until coming back to South Africa 3–4 years ago, and has been in storage since. The second work was given to Miriam Feni at the Dumile Foundation.


Though highly esteemed, Dumile Feni’s work has persistently remained elusive. Dealing with subject matter that is admittedly complex, his work is often consciously political and continues to evoke discomfort. Emerging in the mid-1960s, after the infamous Sharpeville massacre, Feni began to portray the human carnage and psychology of violence that defined the apartheid state.Children under Apartheid follows this thematic concern into the tumultuous 1980s, while Feni lived in exile in the United States. With the rise of student protests a decade before, the 1980s saw an increase in the radicalisation of the youth, which led to the State of Emergency, and once again large-scale police raids, arrests, torture and deaths. Ironically titled as Children under Apartheid, the drawing depicts figures peering from behind jail bars. Suppose these are the young victims of state brutality and subjugation, caged inside apartheid’s prisons – their fate murky and unpredictable, their cardinal sin being the unflinching petitioning for self-determination.Feni devoted his life and his art to the struggle for freedom. The artist spoke out internationally against the “degradation and enslavement of his people”. The penitentiary as a theme therefore consistently features as an aesthetic motif in a series of works Feni made during this time. His style had drastically changed over the years since his earlier expressionistic works, with his lines now more controlled and refined. However, notwithstanding this notable drawing technique, Children under Apartheid further hinges on Feni’s typical leitmotifs. In the margins of these graphic, bold and sharp lines, that give his subjects a robotic masculinity, loose and faint lines creep up unexpectedly, in ways that refuse to eviscerate their sentimentality and frailty. Until his death in 1991, Feni’s work grappled with deep existential questions and the dynamics of human vulnerability that have made his oeuvre as rigorous as it is aesthetically inviting.

Athi Mongezeleli Joja

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Auction: Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art, Mon, 17th Jul 2017

Aspire Art Auctions’ second Johannesburg sale offered a selection of some of the best works produced by local and international artists available on the local market. Offerings included Cameroonian-born, Belgium-based, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Chilean, Eugenio Dittborn, and South Africans, William Kentridge, Kendell Geers, Louis Maqhubela, Cecil Skotnes, Maggie Laubser, Irma Stern, and Mohau Modisakeng, amongst others.

The sale was led by an international auction record of R1 200 320 achieved for a drawing, Children under Apartheid, by exiled South African artist Dumile Feni, as well as the successful sale of top international lot Golden Mask by renowned performance artist Marina Abramović. 


Friday 14 July 2017 | 10 am – 7 pm
Saturday 15 July 2017 | 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday 16 July 2017 | 10 am – 4 pm

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