Contemporary Art

The extensive collection of contemporary African art focuses upon artists with links to KwaZulu-Natal. Killie started by collecting the works of the earlier generation of artists like Gerard Bhengu, Simon Mnguni and the Ntuli brothers. The University of KwaZulu-Natal has continued to add to the holdings of contemporary African art. The donation of the Jo Thorpe Collection, which holds works by artists who sold through the Durban African Art Centre, must make the holdings of African art housed at Muckelneuk one of the best in South Africa. Art historian, E.J. De Jager commented that, in the majority of cases, contemporary African artists concern themselves with man in his human situation and this art idiom can be termed "figurative expressionism." 1

Duma, Sibusiso - Child mourning parent's death
WCP3062 - Duma, Sibusiso
Child mourning next to her mother's coffin in hut
Oil Painting, 1995
Shilakoe, C. Granny, JT207
JT207 - Shilakoe, Cyprian
My Grandmother Emily,1971

Emphasis is on meaning and content of the work and the major sources of inspiration are township life, traditional custom and folk-lore and biblical or Christian themes. These themes are interpreted according to the artist's personal experience. To the above categories can be added 'protest art' connected to the struggle for political freedom during the apartheid era. The broad content of contemporary African art ensures that the works are a valuable socio-historical record which can be used as a rich source for multi-disciplinary studies.

The Natal art schools of Rorke's Drift, Mariannhill and Ndaleni encouraged artistic talent: internationally recognised artists, like John Muafangejo, Azaria Mbatha and Dan Rakgoathe, received their training at one or the other of these schools during the mid 20th century when persons of African descent were precluded entry to `European-only' institutions.

MM1784 Zulu, Vuminkosi sculpture of ox-heads 1978
MM1784 - Vuminkosi Zulu
Sculpture of 3 ox-heads
Wooden Sculpture, 1978
WCP1694 -Rakgoathe, D. "Spirit of creation"
WCP1694 - Dan Rakgoathe, "Spirit of creation"
Linocut of many headed creator-snakes
(human, cow, ram, horse and bird)

In November 2007 the Vuminkosi Zulu Family Trust donated all of the artist's linocut and etching plates and the Collections acquired the full range of his prints. The late Vuminkosi Zulu also studied at Rorke's Drift during the 1970s along with Mbatha and Muafangejo. He lived most of his life in rural Krantzkop and many of his images reference indigenous cultural perspectives hence requiring the viewer have some anthropological knowledge to fully appreciate them.

The William Campbell Furniture and Picture Museum boasts a comprehensive holding of work by Azaria Mbatha, who was the first student at Rorke's Drift when the Evangelical Lutheran Mission established the art school there in 1961. Art critic Andrew Verster says of Mbatha's linocut-prints,

His work raised the genre (linocut) to a new level. He was the first to make lino seem an aesthetic necessity and not Hobson's choice. In his inspired hands this somewhat clumsy medium took on delicacy and refinement that had previously seemed impossible and he proved that monochrome and the technical limitations could be an advantage and not a restriction 2

Some twenty-three of Mbatha's works were lent for the Azaria Mbatha Retrospective Exhibition hosted by the Durban Art Gallery, which travelled to the major South African galleries between 1997 and 1999.

Included in the contemporary African art collection are many sculptures which give pause for contemplation. Many came from the Ndaleni Art School which had as its purpose the training of specialist art-teachers for the then African school-system.

MM3602A-B - Mashololo, Henry, Wodcarving of violin
Mashololo, Henry
Wodcarving of violin, 1990

Examples of Woodwork

A shortage of ready wood meant that pieces were carved from old railway-sleepers and are thus of Burmese teak and Australian jarrah. Some lighter woods were also used, like the jacaranda wood used in the carving by Smart Gumede titled,"The Amazon", which depicts a 'hen-pecked' husband and causes many a smile on visitors' faces.

More contemporary works in the collection come from out of the Create Africa South, Amazwi Abesifazane (Voices of Women) memory cloth project.

Memory cloths from Voices of Women Project 2000
wcp3294, Msomi, Busisiwe "I shall never forget what happened in 1989"
WCP3294 - Msomi, Busisiwe
"I shall never forget what happened in 1989"
wcp3284, Nxumalo, Dudu  "Zulu wedding" Memory cloth

WCP3284 - Nxumalo, Dudu
"Zulu wedding"

After the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in 2000, the NGO, Create Africa South (CAS), was established to preserve and develop creativity while assisting in cultural discussions within South Africa. Rural women recorded their narratives in cloth, applique, embroidery cotton and beads. Archives of their documented work can be viewed on the web site, Create Africa South (CAS)


  1. De Jager, E. J. 1973 Contemporary African Art in South Africa Cape Town: Struik pp. 20-21
  2. Verster, A The Daily News 13 November 1980