Serving Msunduzi through the Visual Arts
Gerard Bhengu on Edendale Excels - 7 February to 22 June 2008
Gerard Bhengu, the eldest amongst the Edendale group, represents the beginnings of black art that developed into mainstream art and art appreciation. His watercolour or ink paintings and drawings were initially made as illustrations for ethnographic and sociological recordings. These illustrated the differences in cultural practices between certain Nguni language groups found in Kwazulu-Natal. Bhengu studied at the Edendale Vocational College (later called Technical High School) during the thirties. His talents were later recognized and used for private and public commissions.
Timeline - Gerard Bhengu (6 September 1910 - 26 October 1990)
- 1906/09/06: Born in Centecow Mission Station (Southern KwaZulu-Natal) to a family of musicians.
He was also a guitar player as seen in some of his self-portraits. His parents were Timothy Xhalakadayimane and Eugenia Nongcuku Bhengu. Early education in Roman Catholic mission school. Awarded first art kits by teacher Mr. Albert Duma and Mr. Jowett, District Inspector of Native Education Department, in recognition for his talent.
- 1920 - 1930s: 1925 - Suffered from tuberculosis. Met Dr Max Kohler, a physician at Centecow Mission Hospital , and paid him with an artwork. Received commissions for drawings for Kohler on the customs, scarification marks and other ethnographic aspects of different tribes of Southern Natal. Also painted genre scenes, cultural festivities, landscapes and health illustrations. Images published in Marriage Customs in Southern Natal (1933) and The Izangoma Diviners (1941) by Kohler.
- 1932-33: Received patronage from Bishop Fleischer at Marianthal Mission near Ixopo. Due to his socializing and drinking problem the patronage was short lived.
- 1934-37: Patronages from Dr. D.M Malcolm (Native Education Inspector) and Mr. S.R Dent (Department of Native Affairs). Also attended classes at Edendale Vocational College in Pietermaritzburg , an arrangement with Rev. Arnold Nichols. Book illustration for R.R.R Dhlomo's 'Izikhali zanamuhla' and 'Dingane kaSenzangakhona'(1935, Shuter and Shooter, Pietermaritzburg). H.I.E Dhlomo wrote articles on him in the newspaper (Ilanga laseNatali) and radio interviews to promote him as an artist.
- 1937-1942: Bartering with P.W Story to receive art material in return for art works. Commissioned to do a mural in Johannesburg by the Department of Native Affairs (unsuccessful).
- 1940: Moved to Durban
- 1942: Exhibited and sold artwork through the Payne Brothers. His prices had increased from 2s6d to 4 Pounds. He had his first solo exhibition at the Payne Brothers' shop.
- 1942-1978: Patronage from Miss Killie Campbell on ethnographic illustrations and murals depicting traditional festivities (First Fruit Ceremony). Some scenes were left unfinished because Bhengu felt he was earning more at Payne Brothers, but always had financial difficulties in terms of buying art materials.
- 1942-1943: Mural to encourage Africans to join the war in Europe (Second World War). Mural showing the defeat of Hitler by Gen. Smuts, painted in the Wesleyan Methodist Institute for returning African soldiers.
- 1943: Married to Lena Mabaso. He received commissions of oil paintings from A. Paton.
- 1948: Solo exhibition in Johannesburg at the Gallery Beaux Arts.
- 1953: Mural for Edward Gwazindoda Tembe, a traditional healer in Durban, showing Tembe's healing powers.
- 1962-65: He did illustrations for Phyllis Savory books 'Medicine and Witchcraft' and the 'Xhosa Fireside Tales'. Launch of his biography in the Royal Agricultural Show Grounds, Pietermaritzburg.
- 1966: Unfinished calendar illustrations:18/24.
- 1970-1980: Several solo and group exhibitions.
- 1973: Lena Mabaso died; in 1975 he married Lena Mthembu and moved to Umlazi K- section.
- 1990/10/26: Died from diabetes aged 80 and was buried in Umlazi T-section cemetery.
- Durban Art Gallery
- Killie Campbell Africana Library
- Private Collectors
- Tatham Art Gallery