Charles Sekano

(b. 1943) South Africa
The Story

Born in Sophiatown, South Africa, in his twenties Sekano fled apartheid’s dehumanizing laws for exile in 1970s Amsterdam.

Also known as Sof’town or Kofifi, a suburb of Johannesburg, Sophiatown was a legendary black cultural hub, one of the oldest black areas in Johannesburg and its destruction under the Immortality Amendment Act, No. 21 of 1950 represented the excesses of aparthied. Despite violence and poverty, Sophiatown was the epicenter of politics, jazz and blues during the 1940s and 1950s. It produced some of South Africa’s most famous writers, musicians, politicians and artists.

Sekano, missing African soil, eventually moved to Kenya, which, despite President Daniel arap Moi’s authoritarian regime of the period, offered a less fettered environment than Apartheid South Africa. In Nairobi in the 1960s, amid the very real isolation of exile, Sekano forged himself into both a self-taught artist and a musician where he worked as a Jazz pianist in the multiracial bars and nightclubs and painted during the day. He lived life in the tradition of a romantic bohemian.

His artistic expression was and is informed by the sense of loss experienced after his family was uprooted, and by the resultant severing of family bonds.

In Nairobi, he thrived on very little sleep and created his art on sheets or scraps of paper, cardboards and newsprints, using crayons and later acrylics.

Formed with simple, colorful, clean lines, fresh and hip, his artwork struck a chord among an emerging middle class.