Sfiso Ka-Mkame is a self-taught
artist, of Zanzibari descent, who was born in Clermont on the outskirts of
Durban in 1963. He continues to live in the township of his birth and commutes
to his studio in Umkhumbane/Cato Manor each work day. He obtained sporadic art
training through the 1980s achieving an important success in 1988 with the
sale, to the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, of his ‘Letters to
God’ drawing series. He was an active United Democratic Front member and his
early work reflected the political conflict, daily struggle and hardships he
witnessed. Ka-Mkame is featured in important South African art texts, such as
Gavin Younge’s ‘Art of the South African Townships’ (1988) and Sue Williamson’s
‘Resistance Art in South Africa’ (1989).
Ka-Mkame’s work is very decorative demonstrating nostalgia for African symbols;
a quest that become more urgent and challenging for him after South Africa’s
first democratic elections in 1994. With a group of like-minded artists in
Durban, he began searching for symbols of an African identity beyond the
confines of his own region and this is reflected in his paintings. He works on
a number of pictures simultaneously building-up dense layers of colour with oil
pastels starting with a yellow background and adding dark colours in sequence
so that he can reveal and scratch patterns into his images. Ka-Mkame usually
titles his work and this provides the viewer with the beginning of the story or
narrative that has inspired his work. His use of bold colours is spectacular
and celebratory, but a closer inspection reveals contrast in his compositions
that are indicative of changed circumstances that have a hint of remorse.
Nevertheless it is the African women resplendent in magnificently coloured and
patterned gowns that currently dominant Ka-Mkame’s artwork, reminding art
critic, Mario Pisarra, of the work of renowned Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt.
Art Critic Hazel Friedman says “In such works as Sorrow Swallow Me Mkame’s use
of red to denote the sky suggests his landscapes reside more in an emotional
than naturalistic realm. The exuberantly patterned textiles and amulets worn by
his female subjects convey a sense of yearning for an environment of miracles
and mysticism. And the visual wealth of his pastel imagery attests to an
unabashed passion for his medium.” (art southafrica vol 21 issue 02 2003).
Ka-Mkame has participated in numerous group exhibitions between 1986 and 2004.
His first solo exhibition was held at the BAT Centre in Durban in 1996.
Ka-Mkame’s work can be seen in numerous public collections in South Africa
including the South African National Gallery in Cape Town and public galleries
in Johannesburg, Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Corporate companies, such as the
SASOL and Mobil Oil, have also added examples of his work to their art
collections. Ka-Mkame is featured as one of the artists in the publication ‘10
years 100 artists: Art in a Democratic South Africa’ (2004).