The Collector | Sam Nhlengethwa

Our latest collector’s love affair with art and music has spanned decades, nurtured by tales of global discovery and finding meaning. Mr Sam Nhlengethwa – who recently participated in the second intimate conversation in the second The Art Talks series in association with – shared some thoughts on a treasured piece in his collection. 

Mr Nhlengethwa’s career as an artist spans four decades of excellence and celebrity, at home in South Africa and the various sites abroad which have put a spotlight on his unique body of work from sketches and collages to intricate paintings.

His upcoming exhibition in October is dubbed “Past, Present, Now is the Time” and his commentary on South Africa today (40 years since the Soweto uprising and 22 years into Democracy), reflected through the city he lives and works in, and the people that inspire him. In our latest exploration of a fascinating collector, we asked the avid art and music collector (he owns over 6 000 vinyl records), what single piece in his collection is on his radar right now.

“It is the watercolour Travellers from Sophiatown by Gerrard Sekoto. It has four people (one of them a child on her mother’s lap) inside a train. It is beautiful. The way it was executed showed Sekoto’s skill and talent. It is not big in size, but big in impact. The expressions on the people’s faces take you back to the idea of travelling long distances, in trains or buses. That was the only option then (for black people) and their expressions reflect that sometimes, travelling was not fun and games. You can sense and see the fatigue on their faces.

sam nhlengethwa
Travellers form Sophiatown, by Gerrard Sekoto.

“This has been in my collection for four years, a welcome addition to some Sekoto watercolours that I already had. Unfortunately I don’t know the history of his process, but sometimes I imagine that he would have sketched the subjects (he was an avid sketcher) before painting them. I don’t recall any history of him having used a camera.

Four years ago I was at Warren Siebrits’ space in Jan Smuts and saw the painting. It was reserved. I asked who the lucky person was and Warren said the buyer had limited time to buy it. Two days later, he called me and said ‘Sam, I think it belongs to you.’

People collect for different reasons. I collect known and unknown artists and only what I like, not for investment. There is a place for that (investment) and the majority of people buy art for that reason, but most artists do not collect art, some don’t even keep their own works. Collecting is an expensive exercise, but maybe it goes deeper than that.”

This article has been updated.

Image by Mr Siyabonga Mkhasibe

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