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Helen Sebidi

21 ICONS: Helen Sebidi

Helen Sebidi


Mmakgabo Mmapula Sebidi, or Helen Sebidi, is one of South Africa’s most collectable artists and the latest icon to be featured in Adrian Steirn’s 21 ICONS South Africa.


Sebidi started out as a domestic worker who followed the call of creativity to become an internationally celebrated fine artist, and who overcame what would seem to be insurmountable obstacles for a black female artist at the time. She was the first black woman in South Africa to have a solo art exhibition.


The suffering and disruption inflicted by apartheid, especially on women, are common themes in Sebidi’s work, which also evokes spiritual ancestors, rural African objects and the conflict between African belief systems and Western values. She has remained a champion of especially rural women, shining the torch on their hardships and triumphs through her art.


For his portrait of Sebidi, Steirn chose to position her in front of her famous 1988 painting, “Tears of Africa”, a large charcoal collage on paper. He says, “I wanted a portrait that represented Helen Sebidi’s passion and her charisma, and I wanted to show her emerging from her art. I wanted to shoot her wrapped in her own creativity, and if you look at the photograph, you’ll notice it’s hard to work out where Helen Sebidi starts and where her artwork finishes.”


The portrait, signed by Sebidi, will be auctioned at the end of the series and the proceeds donated to the charity of her choice.


Over 21 weeks black and white portraits of 21 South African heroes will be shared as collectable posters in the Sunday Times newspaper, and the accompanying short films will air on SABC3 at 6.57pm, just before the 7pm news. Fans can follow the series online through the digital campaign launched by Quirk Joburg on Facebook, on Twitter or at, where you can find icon profiles and behind the scenes images uploaded weekly. Or you can catch up here every Monday.


21 ICONS South Africa is proudly sponsored by Mercedes-Benz South Africa, Nikon, Deloitte, The Sunday Times, SABC3 and the Department of Arts and Culture. Additional credits go to content-creation company Ginkgo Agency.




21 Icons

Helen Sebidi


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