Orbituary for sculptor Michael Gagashe Zondi

2008-03-20 00:00

SCULPTOR Michael Gagashe Zondi, whose work is part of the current Edendale Excells exhibition at the Tatham Art Gallery, died on Saturday, March 15, five days after his eighty-second birthday and following a long illness.

Zondi was born in the Keates Drift district, and received his early education at mission schools in the area. Having completed Standard 7, he attended Dundee Trade School where he did a capentry course.

In the late 1950s he was appointed grounds manager to the Swedish Mission hospital in Apppelsbosch, where he developed his skills as a sculptor, making his first life-sized sculpture – a crucifix for the pulpit.

Zondi formed a close friendship with the medical superintendent of the hospital, Wolfgang Bodenstein, who promoted his work. In 1965, at the height of the apartheid era, he became only the second black artist to have a solo exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery, and many of his pieces were bought by galleries and collectors, both in South Africa and abroad. In the early 1970s, the Bodensteins moved to Johannesburg and then to Pretoria, and Zondi went with them.

After suffering a stroke in 1992, Zondi stopped sculpting, but in 2004 Kirsten Nieser of the Centre for Visual Art on the local university campus curated an exhibition of his work in the Tatham. Neiser wrote the thesis for her Master’s degree on Zondi’s work, and this week she described him as “one of the greatest South African sculptors of the 20th Century”.

Speaking at Zondi’s funeral at Mtulwa in the Dalton district on Wednesday, Neiser quoted a letter Zondi wrote to Wolfgang Bodenstein in 1960 in which he wrote: “My art is made for the people and the world. It is my interpretation of God’s creation, and not something specially made for the Art expert. Art should not be a mystery, but should be able to speak to mankind and represent its creator even when he is long gone.”

At the current exhibition at the Tatham, Zondi’s work is displayed along with that of three other artists from the Edendale area – Gerard Bhengu, Chickenman Mkhize and Siyabonga Sikosana.

Zondi’s wife died in 1992, and he leaves three daughters.

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