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When painter Gerard Sekoto won the 1991 Vita Art Award, he opted to generously donate his prize money to future generations of young South Africans

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Gerard Sekoto, Yellow Houses: A Street in Sophiatown, 1940, oil on cardboard, 50.8 x 74.5cm JOHANNESBURG, Dec. 9, 2010 — In 1940, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, then under the directorship of Anton
Hendriks, purchased its first work by a
black artist, a Sophiatown street scene by a 27-year-old painter born on a Lutheran Mission Station at Botshabelo, near Middleberg, Mpumalanga.

According to legend, Gerard Sekoto had to disguise himself as a cleaner to gain admittance to the whites-only museum to view his oil on board, Yellow Houses: A Street in Sophiatown.

Over time Sekoto’s painting has become one of the JAG’s most cherished
artworks. Steven Sack, writing in catalogue to the groundbreaking exhibition, The Neglected Tradition: Towards a New History of South African Art (1988), describes Yellow Houses as “one of the most isolated but important acquisitions” made by JAG — isolated because it took JAG another 32 years to acquire anotehr work from a black artist.

Two years before Sekoto’s death in Paris in March 1993, aged 80, the painter received the 1991 Vita Art Award. Despite living a life of penury, Sekoto generously donated his prize money to JAG, on condition the monies be used towards a special day for the youth. Every year since, the gallery has continued to honour the artist’s
wish by celebrating the Gerard Sekoto Youth Festival.

The festival takes place on Thursday, December 16 and encompasses a
variety of arts activities including drama, painting, face painting,
printmaking, film and dance. It is accompanied by an exhibition of Sekoto’s works
from the Johannesburg Art Gallery collection. The exhibition runs until the January 30, 2011.

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