|dc.description.abstract||This dissertation considers the creativity of Michael Zondi as one of South Africa’s so-called
pioneer artists and the manner in which he used his art to contribute and create modernity.
His creative skills initially locate him outside the classical designations of any one artistic
discipline. From cabinet-making and building construction, which included an engagement as
an architect and interior designer, ultimately Zondi became the proficient originator of a
comparatively very large body of work in three-dimensional figurative wood sculpture. This
study is largely confined to the latter body of work.
The wood sculptor is located within the ambit of the black intelligentsia who, with their
western mission education, was seeking to define and shape African modernity for
themselves beyond descriptions mired in Eurocentric expression. Zondi’s early work
emerged from crafting skills in woodwork, with thematic narratives that reflect regional
sourcing among the amaZulu. Conceptually these represent a continuity of the creative
practice of the generation before his own, particularly that of the black literary elite, who
inspired him. He drew on the humanist values of the African communalism in which he
was nurtured. As an ikholwa, he further drew on his Christian faith for guidance, using
biblical inspiration for a few of his figurative works of art.
Apart from participation in various group exhibitions from the early 1960s, unusual
exhibition opportunities included two solo exhibitions, in 1965 and 1974, and an exhibition
of his work in a group show in Paris, in 1977, which he attended personally. In the South
African environment of black disempowerment and marginalization he secured his position
outside party-political activism by using his art as his voice, especially among white patrons.
As he found predominantly private patronage for his expressive human portraits, his
philosophical exchange with enlightened friends, especially the medical practitioner Dr.
Wolfgang Bodenstein, became the backdrop for his creative experience.
Sensitive mentorship and informal tuition by white patrons provided Zondi with some
knowledge of European modernist art. Drawing on it as an inspirational resource, the artist
made discerning selections from this aesthetic in order to develop his own personal style. At
the same time he ensured that his art remained accessible for a broad audience that
included the rural people of his home environment, who were the source of his inspiration. Zondi’s thematic move beyond the confines of his Zuluness was the decisive factor which
enabled the artist to engage in a very personal reconciliatory quest with white South Africans
across the racial divide. In an endeavour which spanned the four decades of his active career
as a sculptor, his self-representation through art was simultaneously an immersion in the
human condition which became the expression of a shared humanity. By becoming the
facilitator of reciprocity between people, it stood in defiance of the long-canonized fetish of
race and segregation. By proffering his art as a means of communication, it thereby became
an original and formative tool in shaping African modernity.||