ART S/Peak of the WEEK 2

ART S/Peak of the WEEK 2

Sydney Kumalo

03/09/2021     Weekly with Percy


Let me start by pointing you to the two pieces by Kumalo that will be on offer at our Spring Live Auction to be held in Cape Town later this month. These two bronze pieces are Mythological Rider IIwhich was made in 1970, and Large Seated Woman created in 1965. The two works are respective examples of motifs that Kumalo returned to variously in his career.

Mythological Rider II, which depicts a figure crouched and riding the back of a long-necked beast, has been echoed in pieces like Two Bulls made in 1975. Then there are Man on Beast, Horse and Rider, and others that followed.

For a richer appreciation of Kumalo's work, like Mythological Rider II, one needs to come to terms with his love for Zulu mythology and culture. For instance, the depicted rider with a disc-shaped head and a torso the shape of an accordion is often described as a man by writers working outside a sound knowledge of the interior pulse of Kumalo’s Zulu cultural complex. Opening ourselves up to this cultural universe, Kumalo’s Mythological Rider II takes our imagination into the realm of tokoloshes or goblins of Zulu myth and folklore. Our reading of its form becomes alive with possibility.

The story of this masterpiece is also exciting because we know that only the artist's proof was cast from the terracotta while Kumalo was alive. It was a gift to his wife Esther who wanted the timeless piece. The rest of the edition of seven were cast posthumously, as he left the copyright to his wife. This begins to convey how much he loved this piece.

Just like with Mythological Rider II, Kumalo revisited the motif of the seated figures various times. The image comes up in works he created in 1959, 1960 and 1962. The piece on auction, Large Seated Woman, 1965 is a culmination of his exploration of this theme. It is also important because it was finished just a year after Kumalo decided to dedicate his life to being a full-time artist, having left his job as a teacher at Jubilee Art Centre in 1964. 

The work combines Kumalo's interest in expressionism rooted in African sculptural tradition. It embodies the best of the artists' learning. His time as a student at Rorke’s Drift, the benefit of exchanges with his art group, Amadlozi which included Ezrom Legae, Cecily Sash, Guiseppe Cattaneo, Cecil Skotnes and Edoardo Villa are all evident in his masterful vision and execution of this work.

It’s going to be exciting to see how these works will perform at auction. This is in part because they are among the best examples of the artist's work, and occupy a seminal place in African art history.