Works by Sfiso Ka-Mkame now on show at the African Art Centre in Morningside, Durban.

A new exhibition by artist Sfiso Ka-Mkame is always an exciting event, and Virgins and Graces, opened last night by Nkosinathi Gumede at the African Art Centre in Morningside, Durban, is no exception.

Ka-Mkame has, the last few decades, played an important role in getting African art on the map, and his works can be seen in large museums and institutions throughout this country.

Several of his pastel drawings have been admired by visitors, who have taken his work to many places throughout the world.

Ka-Mkame, born in Clermont, in Durban, on May 3, 1963, remembers drawing in the sand and modelling cattle from clay as a young boy. He also recalls drawing geography maps for his friends at school because he was good at it.

At that time he had no idea his interest and competence in illustration and drawing was considered to be “art”.

In Grade 3, although there was no art teacher, he was introduced to handicrafts and drawing.

He attended the Abangani Open School in Durban and, in 1983, was one of the first to join the Little Abbey Theatre, where he received formal art tuition for the first time.

In 1986, the young artist was employed as a student teacher in screen printing at the Community Arts Workshop, in the old main station buildings in Durban, where many young black artists received their first taste of becoming a serious artist. The workshop did a tremendous job during difficult times and because of the fine talents developed there, it will always be remembered.

In 1989, Ka-Mkame’s career as an artist was bolstered by his participation in the Thupelo Workshops initiated by David Koloane and Bill Ainslie in Joburg.

From there his career took off, and he was able to take his work to another level.

His profession was further enhanced in 1988 when the SA National Gallery in Cape Town purchased his Letters to God drawing series for their permanent collection.

Soon thereafter, the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg bought the series Letters for My Child.

The popular “letters” series, executed in his favoured medium of oil pastel colour layered to create texture and tone, were created at the height of the instability of the apartheid era in SA and gave Ka-Mkame a swift high profile in SA art.

During the 1980s, Ka-Mkame embarked on a new series illustrating the trials and tribulations of women, particularly African women. He openly acknowledges that his compassion and empathy for women stems from the love and admiration he had for his mother.

Ka-Mkame worked with several friends in his studio in Clermont, but this sadly came to an end when the studios were closed.

He now lives in Mariannhill and has started to make handmade paper, as well as some prints. These are not on display at the exhibition as space is limited.

Ka-Mkame’s Virgins and Graces draws on his concept of African women.

Once again, the artist has made use of oil pastels and has used his subtractive technique to create bold, yet exquisitely sensitive, images by methodically and painstakingly scratching into the dark, top layer with a blade and working from dark to light.

Delicately manipulated pattern and texture contrast brilliantly against the naturalistic skin colour of the woman.

The exhibition closes on Saturday, June 9.