Sydney Kumalo

Born: 1935, Johannesburg, South Africa Died: 1988, Johannesburg, South Africa Sydney Alex Kumalo went to school in Diepkloof, Soweto. He began studying at the Polly Street Art Centre in 1952, working there under Cecil Skotnes (qv.) until 1957. In 1958 and 1959 Kumalo worked under the mentorship of the sculptor Eduardo Villa – an artistic apprenticeship which crucially honed and shaped his style and sensibility. It was Villa who introduced Kumalo to Modernist sculptors like Marino Marini and Henry Moore, as well to the African primitive strain in mid-century European modernism, and promoted the particular fusion of African reference and modernist expression which came to characterise Kumalo’s own expression. From 1958 onwards – Kumalo served as assistant to Cecil Skotnes at the Polly Street Centre before being appointed as a full art instructor at the centre in 1960. He continued teaching, first at Polly Street, then at the Jubilee Social Centre until 1964. Kumalo’s professional relationship with Skotnes extended in this time to collaborations on public commissions like murals in the Catholic Church in Kroonstad. At the same time Kumalo continued to work with Villa, and later exhibited internationally alongside Villa, Skotnes (qv.), Cecily Sash, Guiseppe Cattaneo and Ezrom Legae (qv.) as the Amadlozi Group. After 1964 Kumalo left the teaching environment to become a full-time artist. In this role he was much fêted by the international anti- apartheid community, exhibiting regularly in European and American capitals, while still, ironically, equally regularly contributing work to Republic Festival exhibitions. In 1967, Kumalo visited the United States as a guest of USSALEP (the United States South Africa Leadership Exchange Programme), as well as Germany in 1979 and the USA again in 1985. Sydney Kumalo died in Johannesburg in 1988. The importance of Kumalo in terms of the developing traditions of South African art can hardly be overstated. As the senior black educator at Polly Street and the Jubilee Centre, he shaped the sensibilities and style of a generation of artists. But more then this, in his own work, he succeeded in finding formulas and registers which, while they drew strongly on African sculptural tradition, nevertheless articulately spoke the languages of international modernism, and demanded to be taken seriously as such. Sydney Kumalo Sydney Kumalo Sydney Kumalo