Johnny Ribeiro

Johnny Ribeiro was born in Newclare next to Marabastad in 1959, relocating to Lady Selbourne, near Pretoria in a forced removal. This was followed another forced removal to Ga-Rankua.

Ribeiro came from a stable family with his mother working in their own dress making business. In 1966 Ribeiro was sent to a catholic school in Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape where he met Thomas Height, one of the priests who was also an artist. Impressed by Ribeiro’s willingness to learn about the dynamics of art, Height worked towards advising the young Ribeiro. It was during this time that Ribeiro decided on art as a career.

As a child, Ribeiro showed signs of being a future artist. He recalls that, “I liked to draw using watercolours my parents bought me in small painting kits”. Inspired and encouraged by Height, he began to paint the landscapes of Aliwal North. Robeiro kept these pieces until today where they hang his home.

Ribeiro returned to Pretoria where he finished his secondary education and he began to produce work as a professional artist. He would often disappear during school hours to attend to his art activities and it was only after he made headlines in the newspapers that the teachers became aware of his activities. In 1969, Ribeiro made a decision to pursue art as career feeling “I express myself best through art”.

Lefifi Tladi, another Pretoria-based artist, introduced Ribeiro to other artists, some of whom were members of the Black Consciousness Movement, such as Ben Arnold, Wally Serote, Don Mattera. Tladi was also instrumental in introducing Ribeiro to Ike Nkoana, a specialist in woodcuts, and they worked together for some time exchanging skills in different media. As with many other artists of his generation Ribeiro met Jeff Mpakathi who was well connected with different embassies around Pretoria. Eventually the artworks of Ribeiro and others were exhibited in these embassies.

Unusally the Pretoria municipality had made available two houses which were used for cultural, drama and visual art by township dwellers - known as the “Club House”, artists from all over the area often visited the Club House to intermingle with their counterparts.

Over time, Ribeiro produced much work on wooden panels and sculpture. Classified today as a struggle artist, some of his struggle work was smuggled out of the country through Botswana. Ribeiro mentions that some of the pieces produced then were satirized for the purposes of avoiding open conflict with the apartheid regime. He remembers that, “There were some pieces which we sold locally, and we mostly tried not to depict the struggle openly…but if you look at it very carefully you can see it”.

One of his pieces, The Crucifix (Oil on paper) was produced at the height of the Black Consciousness era. The oil painting depicted a Black Jesus on the cross. Ribeiro cut his finger to drop some blood to run down from the wounds. The security police interviewed Ribeiro on the piece and he convinced them it was just a painting on Christ’s crucifixion, while it was clearly about black oppression in South Africa.

Ribeiro’s work has been exhibited in Pretoria and elsewhere, with his second solo exhibition being hosted by the South African Association of Arts in 1977. Robeiro continues to work as an artist and today lives in Ga-Rankua. His current work depicts musicians in joyous mood. Robeiro’s work includes Musician: 1982 (linocut on paper), Dancer: 1970(linocut on paper), Ndebele Dancer: 1979, (linocut on paper) Feast (oil carving pressed wood and metal), Crucifix (painted and carved pressed wood), Woman (unbaked clay), Guitarist (oil painted and carved pressed wood), Still life:1978 (pasted on paper), Woman (Pencil on paper), Crucifix (pencil/graphite on paper), Elongated figure (tamboti), Woman (wood), Genesis Gillespie (musician), Dowry, (linocut on paper), Sea Scape (oil on canvas board), Landscape (oil on canvas board), Ndebele Dancers:1976, Dancer

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