Gerald Bhengu was born on 6 September 1910 in southern Natal and died on 26 October 1990 at Umlazi, Durban. Bhengu grew up in southern Natal at the Mariannhill Monastery's Centecow outpost. His family was Catholic and he attended the mission school to Standard 5. Bhengu was to remain a devote Catholic throughout his life. His aptitude for drawing had been noticed and this was encouraged by Dr Max Kohler who provided him with a studio at Centecow between 1926 and 1931. Bhengu illustrated Kohler's books and articles about Bhaca and Kuze culture. He worked for six months in 1932 and 1933 at Mariathal Mission, Ixopo, producing religious imagery. In 1934 Dr D. McK. Malcolm, an inspector with the Department of Education provided him with a Studio at Edendale. He received no salary and relied on commissions, for example, he provided 28 illustrations for R.R.R. Dhlomo's Zulu textbook Izikhali Zanamuhla. His early work focused on realistic portrayals of rural Bhaca life and culture. In 1938 Bhengu decided to become a full-time artist and moved to Durban. Various patrons supported him while in Durban including the art supplier P W Story, Mr S.R. Dent and Killie Campbell. He sold pictures at Payne Bros department store from 1940 - 1956. It was difficult earning a living from art in the 1940s and 1950s; consequently, he lived in Durban's shack land, Cato Manor. He frequently did not have enough money to work in colour so produced sepia wash character studies, his favourite being of old men and young children. However, he did produce a number of landscapes of KwaZulu-Natal depicting aspects of Zulu traditional lifestyles. Bhengu participated in a group exhibition held at the Durban Art Gallery in 1947 and held his first solo exhibition in Johannesburg in 1948. In 1965 Phyllis Savory wrote a biography entitled Gerard Bhengu: Zulu Artist. The Tatham Art Gallery held a significant retrospective exhibition of Bhengu's work in 1995. His work can be seen in the Africana Museum, Local History Museum, Albany Museum and the University of Fort Hare collection.
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