Archive: Issue No. 130, June 2008

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Isaac Makeleni

Isaac Makeleni outside his house in Nyanga, with one of his paintings and an American purchaser.

Isaac Makeleni

Isaac Nkululeko Makeleni, wth his sculptures.



April 10, 1948 � May 30, 2008

by Sue Williamson

The accomplished painter and sculptor Nkululeko Isaac Makeleni died in Nyanga, Cape Town, last week, after being only recently diagnosed with cancer. He was born in Vasco, the son of William and Mod Makeleni and is survived by his wife, Martha.

The subject of his lively wooden sculptures and his paintings often focused on themes of struggle, difficulties under apartheid, human relationships and brotherhood, and sometimes addressed religious themes. Makeleni�s work is included in the public collections of Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, the University of Western Cape, and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, and he participated in numerous group shows in the Western Cape. His work was always full of life and expressive but what many will remember him for most was his enormous generosity, particularly towards younger artists, and his willingness to get involved in community art projects.

As Mario Pissara recalled at Isaac�s funeral in Nyanga on Sunday, June 8, Isaac was the most enthusiastic member of the Visual Arts Group, an artists organization formed in 1990 with the aim of democratizing the visual arts. Exhibitions of members� work were held in spaces where no art exhibition had been held before - like the Uluntu Centre in Guguletu, the Zolani Centre in Nyanga, and the Manenberg People�s Centre, and Isaac was always the one who managed to get the work hung with no real facilities for hanging work, and the one who organized the musical programme around the opening event, and made sure the public knew about it and came.

When arts organization Public Eye was formed in the late 1990s, again it was Isaac who took on the task of organizing a group of signwriters to paint special signs in Guguletu and Nyanga pointing out places of interest for visitors, a project which was part of the Cape Town Festival programme one year.

Always generous with his time and money, he once told me he wished he was not such a famous artist, as everyone came to him expecting financial help.

With his illness and death, Isaac�s family have been left in a very poor financial state.

For anyone wishing to remember Isaac and help his family, donations of any amount can be deposited into the ASAI bank account. Please put �Isaac� into the reference field. Bank details are:� Africa South Art Initiative (ASAI), First National Bank, Branch code 201509 (Rondebosch), Account no. 621 7924 2567