(b. 1943 Marapyane, South Africa)




Mmakgabo Mapula Helen Sebidi was born in 1943 in Marapyane (Skilpadfontein), in the Hammanskraal area of the Northern Transvaal. As her mother was working as a domestic worker in the city for much of her childhood, she grew up with her grandmother, who taught her the values that would guide and sustain her life. This includes the channelling of spirit back into the world through hard work, the commitment of the self to the community, but most of all through acts of creativity – whether this be cooking, constructing mud walls, creating murals, making pots and decorating calabashes, weaving, beading, dress-making, knitting, drawing or painting. For Mmakgabo Sebidi, the artist starts from a root of pain and conflict and works her way towards the redemption of both herself and those around her through the act of making. The creator becomes invisible during this process and is the channel through which the spirit world flows. The artwork can be seen as the trace of this redemptive journey.


Sebidi’s art also demonstrates an attempt to go back to a pre-Christian, pre-colonial Africa – to a range of symbols, a value system and a way of making meaning of the world that can still be found in pockets in the rural areas.   


Mmakgabo Sebidi spent much of her young adult life (she left school after Grade 8) as a domestic worker in Johannesburg. Before moving to Johannesburg she had never seen white people. Following a period of false imprisonment for stealing food, she started to occupy her spare time making dresses and knitting. She sent the money home to help support her grandmother and her extended family. When a German employer – Heidi – starting painting, Sebidi expressed an interest in painting herself and was given her first set of oil paints. She then sought lessons and finally joined the art classes of John Koenakeefe Mohl before returning to Marapyane in 1975 to look after her ailing grandmother. During the early 80s she also trained at the Katlehong Arts Centre to improve her clay technique. Here she worked on pottery and sculpture and gave classes to children. After the death of her grandmother in 1981, she remained in the rural areas, earning extra money from painting rural stories onto calabashes and making pottery.


In 1985, Sebidi had her first solo exhibition at FUBA. It was arranged by her teacher and mentor Mohl, who died shortly before the exhibition opened. At the time she was living in a township hostel with few possessions other than a blanket, soap, a face cloth and her paints. After this exhibition – arguably the first solo exhibition for a black female artist in the country – her fortunes began to change. Through the exhibition she met Bill Ainslie, who encouraged her towards more abstracted work. She also joined the Art Foundation, training and exhibiting with white and black artists together for the first time. Until this period, Sebidi has been exhibiting at Zoo Lake and selling her work mainly to tourists. From her solo exhibition on, she would become increasingly known in the art world – and would join the Everard Read as one of their most significant and influential artists.


Makgabo Sebidi’s accomplishments were recognised in 1989 when she was approached by the America Embassy with a view to applying for an international award. To her surprise, she won the award and was given a Fulbright scholarship to travel to the US, where she had     a placement at the Millay for the Arts in Austerlitz. Her occupation as described by her identity documents was simply ‘domestic servant’. She also went on a tour of America, where she met up with the ‘stolen people’ (African Americans), ‘the people whose land was taken from them (Native Americans) and those who work the land (farmers and agriculturists). She concluded that we have far more in common than whatever separates us and that all the lessons she has needed in her life were available to her through the teachings of her grandmother and her community. While in America, she also spoke at Yale and Mississippi University and attended a 45-day workshop in Washington with African America artists. That same year Sebidi also won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award. From the 1990s to the present, Sebidi had travelled and exhibited throughout the world, including the UK, Holland and the US.


Mmakgabo Sebidi is without question an inspiration and pioneer to the younger generation of South African artists. Working predominantly in pastel, acrylic and oil paint, she has developed a distinct style that uses vibrant juxtaposed colour, rough surfaces, distorted perspectives, abstracted human and animal figures, dream images – often in a pointillist, stippled style of pastel or paint application. More recently she has returned to sculpting in clay and this exhibition features the first of her sculptures ever to be cast in bronze.


Sebidi states: “My early works were traditional wall paintings using dung to get the right shine. Now I paint differently. I don’t use my brain but am only controlled by a spirit. When the picture is finished it will speak. It will come alive and there will be movement. My pictures show me the way I must go.”


Today Mmakgabo Sebidi lives in Parktown, Johannesburg, where she also has her studio. She spends much of her spare time helping to inspire and encourage the younger generation – especially of artists. In 2004, President Thabo Mbeki awarded her the Order of Ikhamanga (the Strelitzia or Bird of Paradise Flower) – which is the highest honour given to those considered a ‘national treasure’.       







Everard Read Johannesburg (Solo Show)   

Fundação Bienal de São Paulo (Group Show)



Centennary Exhibition, Everard Read (Group Show)



Great South African Nude Exhibition at Everard Read (Group Show)



Joburg Art Fair 2008 with Everard Read



Oman, Group Show



Telkom exhibition

Oman, Solo Show



‘Visible Visions’ travelling exhibition: Germany: Hagen, Essen, Berlin and Osnabrueck; Holland: Tilburg



Solo: The artificial shelter foundation: Tilburg



Art in the context of the World Earth Summit on sustainable development

International travelling exhibition, ‘World Women, Visible Visions from ‘International Women’, opened in Johannesburg

International world summit exhibition: Tilburg



‘The Markers’ exhibition, Venice Biennale, Italy

Association with Freedom Park begins



Axis Gallery, New York, USA

University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion



Human Rights Institute Exhibition, National Art Gallery, Durban

Changing Screens Exhibition, The Firs, Rosebank

Standard Bank National Drawing Competition, toured SA



‘Six Women from Southern Africa’, Exhibition in Lisbon, 1994 Civic Gallery, Johannesburg



‘Women from Africa’ Exhibition, Savannah Gallery of Modern Art, Bethnal

Green, London, representing eight woman artists from Africa

Group Exhibition – African Hei-iti-@e – Uranienborgreien, Norway

Graphics Exhibition, Jyraskyla, Finland

Group Show – Biennale Italy

Three-person show at the Everard Read Gallery with Lucky Sibiya and Noria Mabasa

Group show at Stedelike Museum, Amsterdam

‘Il Croce Del Sud’, Rome, Italy



‘Future Realms’, two person exhibition, The Afrika Futuristic Gallery, Johannesburg

‘Art from South Africa’, SA National Gallery, Cape Town

Standard Bank Young Artists Award Winners Exhibition, Zimbabwe National Gallery



‘A Grain of Wheat’ Group Exhibition at the Art Gallery of the Common Institute, London

Standard Bank Young Artists Award Winners Exhibition, Namibia

‘The Challenge to Colonization’ Group Exhibition, 4th Havana Biennial, Cuba



Art from South Africa Exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford

Mozambiquan National Gallery

Zabalaza Festival, group show as part of South African Festival, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London



‘Ten Years of Collecting’, University of the Witwatersrand. Standard Bank National Festival of the Arts, Grahamstown, resulted in a touring solo show, visiting museums and galleries, ending in Namibia in 1991.

Biennale in Museum Africa, Johannesburg

Sunday Times ‘Finders Keepers’, Cape Town National Gallery

Included in a group exhibition, ‘The Laager’, Museo de Arte, Pretoria

Contemprario Santiago, Chile

Centre of the Arts Yerba Buenga Gardens, San Francisco

The Everard Read Gallery – ‘South Africa’s Finest Painters’

‘Common and Uncommon Ground’, South African Art to Atlanta, City Gallery East, Atlanta, Georgia

Solo Exhibition, London

Solo Exhibition, Hamburg, Germany



Cape Town Triennial, toured SA



Detainees’ Parents Support Committee – 100 artists protested against detention without trial, ‘The Neglected Tradition’, Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Art Images in Southern Africa, Group Show, in Stockholm, Sweden exhibition

SA Potters Association

Thopelo Art Workshop and Exhibition, Cape Town, South Africa



‘Vita Art Now’, Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Delfiri/FUBA Creative Quest Exhibition, FUBA

FUBA (Seven Woman Artists)

Thupelo Workshop Exhibition, toured to Johannesburg Art Foundation and NSA Gallery, Durban



FUBA, Johannesburg (Solo Show)

 ‘Art for Alexandra’, Sotheby’s, Johannesburg

Johannesburg Art Foundation Thupelo Workshop Exhibition, University of the Witwatersrand



Washington, USA (organised by a private collector)



Brush and Chisel Club, Johannesburg



Artists under the Sun, Johannesburg




Africana Museum, Johannesburg

Art Workshop, London

Sasol Collection

Unisa, Pretoria

University of Bophuthatswana, Mafikeng

Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg

Johannesburg Art Gallery

Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town

South African National Gallery

1820 Settlers Foundation

Standard Bank Collection

Pretoria Art Museum

The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington and New York

University of the Witwatersrand

Price Forbes

Federated Insurance Co

Department of Education and Training

Galerie Adriana Schmidt

University of Wolverhampton

H Roque Investments


World Bank

South African Broadcasting Corporation


First National Bank

SA Permanent Bank

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, New York, USA

Aboriginal Art Museum, Australia






Mbokoto Women’s Award



Lifetime Achievement Award for Visual Art



Nomination for ILKSSA: National Heritage Council, National Living Treasure Award

Oman Association of the Arts Award

Award of the order of Ikhamanga silver award given by the Presidency, the Republic of South Africa, Chancery



Nomination for the 1st nominee in the Human Sciences Research Council Living Treasure Award



Vita Fine Art Award



Fulbright Scholarship – World Exhibition, New York

Standard Bank Young Artist Award



Star Woman of the Year finalist