Ike Mkoana

Isaac Nkoana, humble and modest in nature, was born in 1948 in Lady Selborne, Pretoria and was part of a large family of ten - seven boys and three girls. After being forcefully removed from Lady Selborne, the family resettled in Ga-Rankua, one of the townships near Pretoria.

Influenced by an uncle to consider art as a career, Nkoana was already working on his wooden sculptures. His teacher Thomas Ramokgopa also encouraged the young Nkoana to try pencil drawing. In the 1950s, Nkoana met Alexis Preller, the surrealist painter, who also provide him with strong support.

Despite the fact that Nkoana had received no formal training, he became an excellent artist. With time, he matured into a specialist in sculpture, drawing and woodcuts. Through his work, he hoped to express the South African black culture, suppressed and dying under apartheid. He lamented the fact that many black people had wrongly bought into a western lifestyle. “Our traditions are dying… people have become modern and I don’t think that is good. It will not lead to prosperity because it is not natural.”

In the mid 1960s, Nkoana met Enos Makhubedu and Eric Lubusi and the three worked together. In the 1970s, Nkoana, Lefifi Tladi, Rantobeng Mokou, and Fikile Magadlela established an Art Centre in Ga-Rankua, the first of its kind in this township. From then on these artists began producing resistance art.

Nkoana’s work has an African feel and perspective; his woodcuts portray an African theme. But in apartheid South Africa black artists had few opportunities to showcase their work, having to stage exhibitions in ‘safe’ places. Not to underestimate the times and the non-acceptance of black artists, when Nkoana hung his paintings in a Pretoria gallery they were smeared with excrement overnight. They found refuge for their pieces in foreign embassies and diplomats' homes, which remained off-limits to police. Indeed, Nkoana and his counterparts, Johny Ribeiro, Ezekeil Madiba and Fikile Magadlela, once held an exhibition in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Jacobs from the American Embassy.

This political era presented many challenges to South Africa’s black artists, including the high cost of materials and the lack of studio space. But Nkoana found refuge in music and played often in township saloons with fellow artists and musicians. Fabulous Jazz music formed the background of these social sessions where the artists talked about their work, positively criticizing the work of their colleagues where necessary. It was from such gatherings that Nkoana’s thinking on art was shaped.

In 1971, he represented South Africa in Northern Italy at a group exhibition of woodcuts and won a bronze medal and exhibited in the Upper Gallery of the South African Association of Arts in Church Square, Pretoria. In 1974, Nkoana mounted his solo-exhibition in Pretoria at the South African Association of Arts to great acclaim.

Nkoana’s work include “Witchdoctor” (woodcut), Noncausa: 1974 (woodcut), Lekoye Player: 1974 (woodcut on paper), Guitarist: 1975 (woodcut), Initiation Dancer: 1976 (woodcut on paper), Crucifix: (woodcut on paper). Today, Nkoana continues to work as an artist and lives in Ga-Rankua.

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