A highlight of Aspire
and Artcurials upcoming auction in Paris of Modern & Contemporary Art is Dumile Fenis magnificent large-scale drawing which captures the dignity and power of King Sobhuza II of Swaziland. Charcoal on paper the portrait is 253,5 x 111 cm in size and is estimated to sell for 45,000-65,000.
The late King Sobhuzas grandson, Prince Misuzuluwhose name means "strengthening the Zulus"has been chosen as successor to the Zulu throne. As king, he will exercise extensive influence over more than 11 million Zulus, nearly a fifth of South Africa's population.
Artist Dumile Feni is widely regarded as one of the great visionaries of South African art. A prodigious talent, and a hero for aspiring artists today, he has been likened to a rock star who lived fast and died young. From his very first exhibition, his name and reputation spread rapidly in the Johannesburg art world and his fearless and unflinchingly expressive drawings forever transformed the landscape of art from Southern Africa. Feni produced three solo exhibitions and represented South Africa at the São Paulo Biennale of 1967, before going into self-imposed exile where his career continued to flourish.
King Sobhuza II was born on 22 July 1899 at Zombodze Royal Residence, a royal village in Shiselweni, Eswatini. He led Swaziland through independence until his death in 1982. As Sobhuza II, Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, he was the Paramount Chief and later Ngwenyama (the title of the male ruler, meaning "Lion" in Swati) of Swaziland for 82 years and 254 days, the longest verifiable reign of any monarch in recorded history.
It is noteworthy that King Sobhuzas daughter was the Great Wife of the Zulu King Zwelethini, whose marriage forged a powerful union between the Swazi and Zulu kingdoms. In his powerful drawing of King Sobhuza, which is estimated to fetch between 45,000-65,000, Dumile Feni captures the strength and aristocratic bearing of this celebrated African leader.
Despite Dumile Fenis fame, considerable success and the fact that he was promoting South African art globally, it was illegal in South Africa at that time for a black person to move to the city without proof of full-time employment. Although Feni was a full-time artist with contractual representation from Gallery 101, the nationalist authorities refused to recognise this, questioning whether being an artist was in fact a job. Feni was permitted only six months to stay in Johannesburg, but would have been forced to return to the reserve in the Cape from whence he stemmed.
It was at this time that Feni expressed his desire to live in Swaziland: I want to stay in Johannesburg because here is where my friends are and art. I am trying to get a passport for overseas. I want to see America and Europe. Then I want to live in Swaziland. Why do I want to live in Swaziland? Well, because it isn't my home. So when bad things happen to me there, it won't hurt me so much."
In 1968 Dumile went into voluntary exile in London, where he enjoyed success and recognition, showing his work in exhibitions, at the Grosvenor Gallery and Camden Art Centre, amongst others. He later relocated to New York, where he died in 1991. He would never see the country of his birth again.