Goats, A Thematic Metaphor in Sam Nhlengethwa’s work

14/02/2024     General News, Timed-Online Auctions

Sam Nhlengethwa is a prominent South African artist who is best known for his figurative works incorporating mineworkers, jazz and the contemporary South African space. In both his printmaking and painting practice, the artist uses a combination of photography, collage painting and drawing. Nhlengethwa has been an avid printmaker, with an oeuvre in the medium that spans decades, as he started working on printmaking in the late 1970s. Since then, the artist has worked in various spaces and collaborated with important South African artists and printmakers throughout his career.



Nhlengethwa has been working with the Artists' Press since its foundation in 1991. Alongside Mark Attwood, founder of the Artists' Press, he formed part of the initial group to establish the Bag Factory Artist Studios in Newtown, Johannesburg. It was there that Attwood and Nhlengethwa started collaborating on prints. While the artist created numerous series of goats within his career at various printmaking studios, it was in 2006 that he produced a series of goat etchings with master printmaker and technical assistant Osiah Masekoameng at the Artist Proof Studio in Johannesburg. Key examples of these works, which incorporate both etching techniques with oil paint are on offer in our Editions + Photographs Timed-Online Auction.


Lot 58 | Loneliness I, Loneliness IV, Grazing I, three, 2006 | ZAR 30 000 – 40 000


The goat is commonly seen in both rural environments as well as townships, streets and backyards, and in many ways becomes an amalgamation of both urban and rural South African spaces. The animal can also function as a sacrificial object within certain African cultures. In Nhlengethwa’s works, the goats act as symbols of his personal and cultural memories as well as valuable metaphors for the human condition. Nhlengethwa hints at his interpretation of these metaphors in his playful use of titles such as Try Me, The Boss,  Loneliness, and Lost.


Lot 59 | Grounded, Grazing II, Grazing III, three, 2006 | ZAR 30 000 – 40 000


Interestingly, Sam Nhlengethwa does not make his interpretation too obvious but rather leaves space for the viewer to reflect their own memories, whether personal or cultural, onto these works. This is strengthened by the combination of the delicate etchings overlaid with black oil paint to create ephemeral, almost abstract depictions of goats.


The current two group lots allow for these metaphors to coalesce into two categories, the goat by itself (Lot 58) or the goat in a group (Lot 59). What each work seems to express in their various titles, Loneliness I, Loneliness IV, Grazing I and Grounded, Grazing II, Grazing III, forms a series of events that allude to the deeper meanings of how living beings exist by themselves and in groups. 


By Carina Jansen

Associate Specialist





Editions & Photographs

8 February - 20 February 2024


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