Lucky Sibiya (1942 - 1999)
African figures, one with baby on the back

incised and stained wood, 91 x 61cm

signed bottom right ‘L Sibiya’

Lucky Sibiya was introduced to Cecil Skotnes by Bill Ainslie, and Skotnes accepted him as a private pupil. Sibiya initially engraved calabashes but Skotnes taught him to incise and colour wood panels, the media in which he went on to make his best-known work. He held his first solo exhibition in Johannesburg in 1971, at Gallery 101, and continued to exhibit regularly until his death in 1999.

This monochromatic panel recalls the aesthetic of woodblocks and linocuts with its stark incised lines. The stylised figures in this early work remind us of Sibiya’s lifelong flux between figuration and abstraction, and this work stands apart from his later more organic and abstract forms. A journal entry in Lionel Abrahams’ notebooks recalling an interview with the teacher-painter Cecily Sash, just back from a study tour in America and Europe, provides an insight into how the circumstances of South Africa ensured that artists such as Sibiya seldom painted abstraction without some reference to the human condition: ‘the work of our younger painters has a “human content” which is not seen in new work elsewhere, and she relates this to the peculiar issues of South African life …’ (Lionel Abrahams, A reader, Johannesburg, 1988, p183). Perhaps if Sibiya and his contemporaries lived and worked in Europe or America, their work would have more closely followed the prevailing abstraction and subsequent -isms, and not resulted in a distinctive merging of international and African aesthetic sensibilities.

© 2005 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.