“At the end of the 1960s, life in South Africa had become extremely intolerable,” he recalled in an email to Marilyn Martin, the curator of his 2010 retrospective, which made reference to his separation from his homeland – Vigil of Departure.
She eschews the ‘neglected’ label.
“There will always be neglected traditions and artists – fashion changes and the market is fickle; this applies to all artists, not only those we pigeon-hole as “neglected”.”
The term lacks credibility given Feni, Maqhubela and Clarke have all been the subject of major retrospectives, with publications devoted to their work, she adds.
“They are indeed valued and have been for a long time.”
The “neglected” term now seems to be linked to an undervaluing in numbers by the local SA art buyers. In the late eighties the term was popularised by an exhibition at the Joburg Art Gallery dubbed, “the Neglected tradition”, featuring work of black (and white) artists who were known to the art world but had never enjoyed promotion by the state’s institutions.
When white artists, curators and art world leaders such as Alan Crump, Christopher Till and Steven Sack turned their attention to “neglected artists”, MJ Darroll expected that works by black artists from this era would be collected more assiduously.
“I kept waiting for it to happen. We are 24 years on and there has not been much collecting. This is partially due to the fact that we don’t have an African Art Museum,” she observes.
Perhaps then, when we talk about Feni’s return, what we really ought to think about is a reinstatement or a form of recognition of the value of his art, aesthetic and contribution to the struggle against the apartheid system, which the tortured, haunted faces and bodies in his art are said to evoke.
As it happens, Children of Apartheid, has been in the country for the last three years, according to Darroll.
“It has been in storage. It has not been seen or been exhibited in the public sphere that will only be happening now.”
July 17th, the date of the Aspire Auction, will not only determine what value will now be attached to that Feni work, but also its home, away from the deferred home that Feni never attained in his life.
Feni’s work will go under the hammer on June 17 at Aspire’s Winter Auction and will be on view at 7 on Park, Hyde Park, Joburg. For more information about the auction and other Feni works visit: www.aspire.net