The House of Women: Charles Sekano

10 February - 31 March 2011

In this show, Charles Sekano continues his exploration of loss and womanhood with a series of canvases entitled 'House of Women'. Women have represented a constant in Sekano's life; a point of refuge, comfort and security. Sekano once said, "This Woman theme is my landscape. The only piece of property I own. Woman is the only country I have." Sekano's "building block" mosaic style takes centre stage; the women who have inspired him all his life are constructed from these geometric shapes.


Born in Sophiatown, Johannesburg in 1945, Sekano's youth was cruelly overshadowed by the consequences of apartheid. Sophiatown was destroyed by the authorities and his family forced into tribally segregated districts within Soweto. This process of dislocation lead to the early death of his father, cementing his decision to flee South Africa and exile himself from the harsh and violent conditions that he found himself in. It was in Nairobi in the 1960's, amid the acute isolation of exile that Sekano forged himself in to both self-taught artist and musician, working as a Jazz pianist in the multiracial bars and nightclubs of this rough-edged African metropolis. Here he lived life in the tradition of a romantic bohemian; developing his own version of the three Rs - "the three Ps" - Painting, Poetry and Piano. His artistic expression was and is informed by the sense of loss experienced after his family were uprooted and by the resultant severing of family bonds.


Women, for Sekano, - those that he immortalises in his works - became his world as well as his artistic language. Sekano affirmed in an interview from the 1980s: "The whole idea is a symbolic relationship. Even the theme "Woman" seems to be remembering my mother, my sisters. I'm trying to live on a higher level with them because I have no communication to show that I am attached to them. They are inseparable from me. There is no border. This Woman theme is my landscape. The only piece of property I own. Woman is the only country I have."


The nightclubs and bars of Kenya with their beautiful female clientele from diverse cultures across Africa were his subject matter and remain his inspiration. These are "spaces" where opportunism and desire intersect and coexist, often in surprising ways. Each work - be it of a single figure, a couple or a group, contains a narrative - keenly and economically observed. The story of the lure of the bright lights and the promise of escape from poverty and pain underlies many of the tableaux. Sekano is never moralistic, always humanistic - his works celebrate and preserve moments. During his years of exile in Nairobi, Sekano waged his own passionate war against the apartheid regime with paintbrush and crayon. The fact that he chose to include Caucasian women in his work was a starting point that surprised some of his peers. But for him colour itself began to symbolise freedom.


"I decided to destroy the apartheid in my thoughts by using colour, by breaking the colour bar. So I just fused everything. I made a red woman, I made a blue woman, a green woman."