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Today’s Archive: A look into Dumile Feni’s Artworks

 Today’s Archive: A look into Dumile Feni’s Artworks

Three Pregnant Women, 1967 Pen and Ink on Paper 13 2/5 × 9 2/5 in 34 × 24 cm

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The works of the Goya of the township

Francisco Goya was one of the most influential and important Spanish painters whose art has left legacies for generations to come. Dumile Feni was the Goya of the Township. His work was not important, it is because his legacy lives on through the documentation of his expression.

On the 12th of May in 1942 in Worcester in the Western Cape, he was named Zwelidumile Geelboi Mgxaji Mslaba Feni. However, through his artistic expression, he was named Dumile Feni aka The Goya of the Township by the world that he handed his art to. Feni’s work was a piercing scream to the Apartheid regime.

It was a big

NO.

LEAVE US ALONE.

STOP THIS HORRENDOUS CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.

His work fought for the humanity of African people. Every detail and creative process looked our people’s humanity in the eye and said the lines and medium on these pages are for you. His monochromatic drawings and paintings bring wells of tears to many eyes and instills heartfelt emotions in every body that comes into contact with it.  

Mother and Child

It is his works that portray motherhood during a painful era that speaks for volumes for us. All works portray the relationship that mothers have with their children from the moment their wombs are abodes to the minute they rest their heads at night.

 

Three Pregnant Women, 1967
Pen and Ink on Paper
13 2/5 × 9 2/5 in
34 × 24 cm
Three Pregnant Women

For our grandmothers and their mothers, pregnancy was something sacred. It meant doing everything necessary during this period of life to protect the carrier of their name and legacy. Additionally, the owner of the body that would grant her the most important job of being selfless, had to carry out rituals and conduct herself in a manner that would ensure that her baby was shielded from the outside world, within her. And for us, the Three Pregnant Women being barefoot in Feni’s work represents the direct link that women and their bodies are to Mother Nature. We say this because their feet are kissing the skin of the Earth. And like nature, their job is serves as blanket that comforts and shelters.

Why three and pregnancy?

But, we also thought of the era in which Feni created this work. What was he thinking when he drew Three pregnant women? Did he think of how all creations exist primarily in threes? Or how from two conceiving comes the third? Was it how everything exists in space, matter and time? Maybe it was the sun, the moon and the stars or the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? Do three women symbolize the existence of all things since from it is because of women that we all exist? Why three and why pregnancy?

Maybe their pregnancies represent an era that would come to life years late through our democracy.

However, this is a drawing from a different time during Apartheid; a time when no one thought that a new dawn would bring the sun into the winter of African humanity. Hence, we have taken it as the period before the resistance of students would be born on the streets of Soweto in 1976. Whatever his reason for telling us something through the portrayal of three pregnant women, that is the beauty of art. What you should take home, is what you think and feel.

 

Mother and Child, 1966
Pen and Ink on Paper
8 9/10 × 13 1/5 in
22.5 × 33.5 cm
It takes a village

As the proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child. During the times our grandmothers were raising our mothers and fathers, we see a world where a child belonged to everyone in its life. Every mother portrayed in Feni’s work is a reflection of all the hands that touched our parents’ lives through prayer, scolding, kind words, ululations and conversations.

Mother and Child, ca. 1967
Bronze
11 × 9 4/5 × 10 2/5 in
28 × 25 × 26.5 cm
Unique
Running?

There is one Mother and Child by Feni that mirrors the difficult times the women before us faced while raising their children. It is the one portrayed below. We see movement in the women’s legs. It seems to us that she is running from something with the intention to safeguard her child. And since we know the (political) climate of the era that Feni tells his stories, is she running from the chaos and attacks of the oppressive system that did everything in its power to destroy African humanity?

What do you take home from this portrayal?

Mother and child
pen and pencil on paper
43 x 35 cm. (16.9 x 13.8 in.)

In our next look at Feni’s work, we will offer our thoughts on his I Am Not A Donkey.

Images sourced from: https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/Mother-and-child/7165BBE82DBB482E and https://www.artsy.net/artwork/dumile-feni-mother-and-child.

Tshedza Mashamba