Lost Human Life (2007) encapsulates the essence of the painterly and poetically expressive work of Mmakgabo Mmapula Mmakgato Helen Sebidi as she navigates a pathway between the rural and the urban, between past and present, between art and tradition.
Central to this painting is a stoic female figure in traditional attire surrounded by a group of figures set against the setting sun over the rural landscape. Reminiscent of a Renaissance Pietà this maternal figure or ‘Madonna’ is kneeling while looking out beyond the two ‘double-faced’ figures before her, as the artist grapples with traditional, cultural and Christian values as well as African and European iconography and visual expression.
Sebidi’s use of art reflects contemporary ideas about the healing function of narrative and creativity in a context of marginalisation and trauma. Her introspective gaze essentially questions who she is and what her purpose is in life is, her imagery reflecting an ongoing process of self-interrogation and self-reflexivity.
Much of Sebidi’s life can be associated with trauma countered by spiritual recovery: as a child an absent mother who lived and worked in Johannesburg; the degradation of domestic employment after joining her mother in the city; racism; petty migrancy laws and ongoing harassment, either witnessed or experienced personally at the hand of security forces.
Sebidi joined Bill Ainslie and David Koloane in1989 for the Pachipamwe II workshop of artists in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Their use of abstraction and painting process, including that of the drip or random mark-making, were to prove ideologically relevant for her. It affirmed her independence and her idiosyncratic work, more specifically her use of vibrant colour and her very own form of richly textured pointillism that has become synonymous with her work.
In Lost Human Life Sebidi may be revisiting the devastating motor accident in 1989 on their return from Zimbabwe, that resulted in the death of Bill Ainslie and the injury and trauma to fellow artist David Koloane and herself.
Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (ed.J) (2009) Mmakgabo Mmapula Mmakgato Helen Sebidi, Johannesburg, David Krut Publishing Taxi-014.
Juliette Leeb-du Toit. (2009) Mmakgabo Mmapula Mmankgato Helen Sebidi, Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing. Illustrated in colour on page 90.