Sun, 1st Sep 2019 9:30

Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 64
Lot 64 - Dumile Feni, Mother and child


Dumile Feni, Mother and child
charcoal on paper|signed and dated bottom left |1986


Sold for R546,240
Estimated at R500,000 - R700,000

Condition Report

The overall condition is fair. Oxidisation consistent with age, there is cockling and creasing consistent with paper size, minor surface dirt, paper abrasions to the bottom left edge not affecting the image area, tape residue along all edges of the reverse, excess paper reside from backing page adhered to all paper edges, paper abrasions top half of reverse. Would benefit from restoration.

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.




158 x 119 cm


Dumile Feni’s 1986 drawing, entitled Mother and Child , not only explores an established and ubiquitous iconographic convention in art history but one that is also pervasive in his own oeuvre. In fact, his earlier portrayal of Mother and Child circa 1966 was once found intolerable by a reviewer, pointing to its disturbingly “ugly” appearance.[1] This compulsion wasn’t about luxuriating over largely Western art historical mores for Dumile, as these relentless returns to the theme were very personal for him. He lost his mother at a very young age, and was brought up by his older sister, fondly known as Kulie. Interestingly, that a sketch of a mother and child has recently appeared on the reverse of his small earthy hued piece Untitled [The Expulsion] (1978) also confirms this thematic. Although his earlier pieces tended to wallow in despair, this wasn’t always the case. The figure of the maternal in Dumile’s work was also one of possibility and that is why the invocation of the maternal also suggested his deep reverence for all mothers and women folk. This particular Mother and Child piece suggests something between that loss and that gain, as it were. Rendered in a later, relatively meticulous, drawing style in which both mother and child appear anatomically between human, beast, and the machine, the chasm between them — like a blackened cavity — contravenes convention’s logics of maternalism and intimacy. However, there’s a relation here, which despite its unconventional pictorialism, intimates a filial intimacy. In their muscular composition, particularly of the mother’s strange balancing posture as she holds a precariously positioned baby (seemingly unaffected) on her lap, it seems the artist mobilizes the body as a metonym for that within it and beyond. He renders the body not as an empty exteriority. Thus, Mother and Child constructs maternalism, not through a given “empty” abstraction, but through the realities and adversities we experience together through and because of our relationship between our own and our mother’s bodies.

Athi Mongezeleli Joja


[1] For a deeper exposition and explanation to this narrative, see Maganizer, A. (2016) Art of a Life in South Africa. Ohio University Press: Ohio, Pg 241-243 and Duke, P. (2010) Dumile Feni: The Story of a Great Artist, Vol 1. Mutloatse Arts Heritage Trust: Johannesburg, Pg. 218.

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