Pemba (1912-2001) is arguably not only one of the leading figures in the history of South African art, but of African art in the 20th century. Yet, sadly for Pemba himself, recognition of his talent and unique contribution to the wider South African art discourse came late in his life. A proud and sensitive child, he was encouraged at an early age in his artistic pursuits by his father, who recognised an unusual talent. This was at a time in the history of this country when it was virtually impossible for a young black man to succeed as an artist, and although he became a teacher and pursued several career options over the course of his life, his dedication to his art remained a constant. Rural and township life were his main sources of inspiration, and offer an accurate reflection of the social and political conditions he experienced.
Although Pemba was recognised among the black intelligentsia from the 1940s, and was awarded several honorary degrees in the 1970s and ‘80s, his acceptance into the art establishment was only fully accomplished by the retrospective exhibition and catalogue of his works at the South African National Gallery in 1996.
Pemba’s legacy lies not only in the wealth of his paintings; he also blazed a trail through the South African art establishment, laying claim to a place for black artists, all the while refusing in any way to compromise his political and moral principles. His works are to be found in the major museums in South Africa.
For further information contact the paintings department at 021 794-6461.