Dumile Feni, Silence, 2012. Bronze Sculpture. © Courtesy Gallery MOMO
Born in 1942
Presentation of the artist
Dumile Feni was born in 1942 in the small town of Withuis in Worcester. With only a grade three education, Feni relocated to Queenstown in the Western Cape. During his teens Feni made and sold terracotta sculptures from the Queenstown Museum.
From there, Feni moved on to Johannesburg, where he branched out to other mediums with the support of artists and intellectuals such as Ephraim Ngatane, Lionel Abrahams, Bill Ainslie, Barney Simon, and Cecil Skotnes. Feni’s popularity both at home and abroad, as well as the critical nature of his work, attracted the attention of the apartheid regime, which drove the artist to assume voluntary exile in London in 1968. From there, Feni moved to the United States, where he spent the last decade of his life. Although Feni experienced periods of success and recognition, a large portion of his life in exile was spent in poverty, as the artist struggled to exhibit work. In 1991, shortly before his planned return to South Africa, he died from heart failure while shopping at his favourite music store, Tower Records in New York. His body was returned to South Africa and he is buried in Johannesburg.
Across sketches, prints, sculptures, and installations, Dumile Feni reflects, on the one hand, the tumultuousness of living as a young, black artist during apartheid, and then the transience of exile. On the other hand, Feni’s work touches on issues of history, politics, erotics, and human connection.
Since his death, Feni’s works have been exhibited widely across the globe. Feni was posthumously awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold for Excellence in the Arts, and a retrospective of his work was opened in January 2005 by South African president Thabo Mbeki and Minister of Arts and Culture, Pallo Jordan. Dumile’s work has been acquired by South African and international museums, including the South African National Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art. His works are included in major collections throughout the world.