Curatorial Voices: Modern and Contemporary Art from Africa

Live Virtual Auction, 28 February 2023

Curatorial Voices: Modern and Contemporary Art from Africa
About the Session

Curatorial Voices: Modern and Contemporary Art from Africa is a dynamic collaborative project conceived by Strauss & Co to address the need for diversified representation of artists from across the African continent in the secondary market. Curated by Strauss & Co Heads of Sale, Kirsty Colledge and Kate Fellens, with input by seven international art experts with embedded knowledge of Africa; Serge Tiroche, Valerie Kabov, Heba Elkayal, Danda Jaroljmek, Anne Kariuki, Dana Endundo Ferreira, Kimberley Cunningham. Curatorial Voices presents collectors with a broad selection of work by leading contemporary artists alongside select pieces by important historical artists.

  • Kimathi Mafafo; Transcendent II

Lot Estimate
ZAR 150 000 - 200 000

About this Item

South African 1984-
Transcendent II

accompanied by an Ebony/Curated certificate of authenticity signed, dated 2019, and inscribed with the title and medium

oil paint and hand embroided fabric
192 by 136cm, unframed


The present lot marks the transition from two dimensions to three dimensions in the artist’s practice and is one of her earlier examples of embroidery work. The figure is still painted and the embroidery is sporadic and loose, a transition towards her heavily embroidered and detailed works of recent years. As Dr Same Mduli writes, “Kimathi Mafafo’s practice in painting and embroidery work is a raw articulation of two mediums that have embodied the Black woman and/or female’s body within the tradition of woman’s work. This woman’s work, I suggest, is informed by how the approach to her subject matter alludes to a disclosure of transgressions of the past, the present, and future. In these, she creates a tension between becoming and being, concealing and revealing, retreating and showing up, all of which are an embodiment of the arduous negotiations Black women have to make in navigating their existence in society.

In her recent work, there is a sense of becoming evidently marked through a gradual transition of the materiality of the work; its move from two-dimensionality to more three-dimensional work. Previously it seems two-dimensionality was a critical integrant of presenting the illusion of concealing and revealing femininity in Mafafo’s work and her navigation through Black womanhood. However, this oscillation appears to have since evolved into a more strategic placement of an artistic language that starts to articulate a kind of woman’s work that is specific to the condition of being a Black woman and/or female. This is not to make the Black woman and/or female condition seem exceptional to other women or women of colour, or timid as she is sometimes depicted in Mafafo’s work, but rather as an important symbol of how societal structures have marginalised, dehumanised and disenfranchised certain women.

By a kind of woman’s work, I am not only suggesting that Mafafo’s artistic repertoire is part of a lexicon of creative work done by Black women as a vehicle towards a cathartic activity, but also one that is specific to the condition of being Black and a woman and/ or female. It is also important to note that woman’s work does not make a gender distinction between work that men do as opposed to that which women do, rather it is referring to how there is a particular kind of intellectual meditative state of being that requires making certain kind of work through a creative process that women have pioneered.”1

1. Dr Same Mdluli (2019) This Woman’s Work: a brief reading of Kimathi Mafafo’s artwork, Cape Town: Ebony Curated.

Kimathi Mafafo is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice ranges from embroidery and oil painting to installation. Born in the semi-arid Northern Cape, Mafafo’s verdant imaginings, characterised by lush greenery and sensuous drapery, are far removed from the dusty mining town where she grew up.

Mafafo’s father G. Rocky Mafafo, a respected water-colourist, encouraged his children to take art classes at the local William Humphreys Museum in Kimberley. She affectionately recalls wandering around the collections of 16th and 17th- century Dutch still-life paintings, entranced by the vitality of their colours and their exquisite level of detail. Inspired by the technicality of these works and under the watchful eye of her father, Mafafo became a technically exacting artist. While her compositions may burst with riotous plant life, each leaf and frond remain meticulously executed. Her compositions are seductive in their level of detail yet remain curiously flat, emphasizing their highly staged nature and the narrative element, which is central to her work.

Mafafo’s imagery is partly guided by her desire to celebrate the black female form, inspiring women to embrace their own worth and beauty. Her earliest works are partly autobiographical and tell the story of a woman withdrawing from the urban lifestyle and finding strength in nature and within herself. Mafafo continues these themes in her latest work as she works alongside Mustapha Saadu - a tailor from Ghana - with whom she has collaborated on a series of embroideries. This latest series, Voiceless, focuses on women who feel powerless in their relationships due to the weight of cultural expectations. In Mafafo’s words “These embroideries tell dark stories of women who are trapped under the weight of tradition, living in a dark space and not realising that the world is beautiful! my work shows that she only has to leave, then she will realize that there is more in life”. Inspired by stories of women around her, Mafafo likens the woman in her narratives to flowers slowly blossoming against all odds, subtly criticising traditional gender roles while at the same time encouraging women to realize their own strength.

Biography courtesy of Africa First.


Ebony Curated, Cape Town, 2019.

Africa First, 2023.


Ebony Curated, Cape Town, ‘Embolden’ – Kimathi Mafafo, 5 September to 2 November 2019.


View all Kimathi Mafafo lots for sale in this auction

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