Gladys 'Nomfanekiso' Mgudlandlu (1923 - 1978)
Gladys Mgundlandlu was born near Peddie, Eastern Cape in 1923 to Mfengu parents. Mgudlandlu attended primary school from 1929 in Port Elizabeth. She obtained a junior certificate from Healdtown Institution and in 1942 qualified as a teacher at Lovedale College, Alice. Mgudlandlu moved back to Port Elizabeth and registered to train as a nurse at Victoria Hospital, but did not complete her training before moving with her parents in 1944 to Langa, Cape Town. Mgudlandlu continued with her nurse training, but a leg fracture made the physical demands of the work difficult so she reverted to teaching. She taught art at the Athlone Bantu Community School for 15 years. However, the apartheid government's 1953 Bantu Education Act declared the school exclusively for the use of coloured people, so Mgudlandlu had to move and she taught briefly at a school in Nyanga, a couple of schools in Guguletu before finally teaching at the township's Nobantu Lower Primary School from 1965 to 1977.
A dedicated art school teacher, Mgudlandlu began painting for herself in 1952. But it was her grandmother's death in 1957 that spurred her on to paint seriously. Mgudlandlu was deeply influenced by her rural childhood and had been taught to paint wall murals by her grandmother. She was a self-taught artist and created her own unique African expressionist style of painting using vivid colours with bold, rhythmic brush-strokes to depict landscapes, people, fauna and flora overlaid by the influence of Xhosa folklore. Mgudlandlu worked in a variety of media using watercolour, oil paints, crayon, gouache, ink and felt-tip pens. She painted after her teaching day by the light of a paraffin lamp to create her na´ve, dream-like pictures. The name 'Nomfanekiso' means 'she who paints at night'. She has been criticized for not rooting her work in the socio-political protest genre current in the face of the apartheid experience. However, this is to overlook the spiritual and symbolic importance of her work.
Mgudlandlu exhibited her paintings between 1960 and 1971 and held successful solo exhibitions at the Rodin Gallery in Cape Town. Following the success of her second solo exhibition in 1962, Mgudlandlu said, "I think that I can claim to be the first African woman in the country to hold an exhibition. As far as I know, I am the only African woman who has taken painting seriously. It has become my first love and there is nothing else I want to do." (Cape Argus, 15 August 1962) Mgudlandlu held her last exhibition in 1971, the year she was badly injured in a car accident. She died penniless in 1978 and is buried in Guguletu Cemetery. A significant retrospective exhibition of her work toured South Africa in 2002 - 3 and her work is represented in the collections of the country's major art galleries.
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