The following text is an exhibition proposal I wrote for my final assignment for the Sothebys online course Key concepts that I took in June and July of this year. I first thought about rewriting it into an essay, but I actually would like to share it as I wrote it. It is to me a perfect example of the practice of  imagining.

When I read the assignment: – write an exhibition proposal – I actually couldn’t believe I got to imagine that. It really felt like I was  given the gift of freedom to imagine something really meaningful. I absolutely loved the whole process. However, I’m not sharing this with you because of that alone. I’m also sharing this with you because I  believe this is important. It is important to change how we western and white people, look at Africa.

This is an example of how we can do that.

I believe strongly in this.


I hope you will enjoy.

Exhibition Proposal by Christi Sa

Johannesburg, 04 July 2022


In the meaning of ‘look back at’.

I am proposing to organize an exhibition in Het Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, called Respect. 

With this exhibition I will bring the full, diverse, rich, playful, colorful and meaningful art tradition of South Africa to The Netherlands. With this exhibition I am actively countering what happened to the South African woman Sarah Baartman, when she travelled in Europe in the 19th century. Sarah Baartman was alone, and she was put on small scaled stages to be looked at by a crowd. She was displayed and made into a curiosity, an object. We can unfortunately not undo this wrongful staging, but I believe we can do something else in our present.  

With this exhibition I will invite three South African female artists to come and showcase their work in Het Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, a world stage. The location of Het Rijksmuseum will be a visual and symbolic honoring of the artists. I will invite them to stay in the five-star Hotel De L’Europe in Amsterdam. I will ask them if they are interested to have a public conversation with me about their lives and their art practice. 

This exhibition is meant to reverse many things that happened to Sarah Baartman. It is an invitation to three South African women, to be honored and introduced in Europe. 

The following female artists will receive this invitation:

Helen Sebidi (1943-), dr. Esther Mahlangu (1935-) and DuduBloom More (1990-). Artists Helen Sebidi and dr. Esther Mahlangu are both renowned and internationally well known artists, they both are firmly rooted in African traditions. And DuduBloom More is a young South African artist who is starting to get noticed internationally. The works of all three artists have added much to my personal understanding of Africa and besides the knowledge about traditions, they all three work with an aesthetics that I believe will inspire many others to look further in Africa for traditions, culture, beauty and meaning.

This exhibition will honor these three female artists from South Africa. Two elders and one younger artist. This choice is meant as a visual display of the importance of elders in traditional Africa. In African traditions elders and ancestors play an active and important role in the daily lives of people. Their wisdom and knowledge about traditions are actively met with respect by the family and/or the community. This is something that the Western world does not know in this way (anymore). The Western world, I believe is different in this respect. One of the things that illustrates this for me is for example in the difference in meaning we use with the greeting of a person. In Africa, when we greet someone, in the greeting is also included, not only, how are you?, but also, how is your family? In the Western world where I grew up in, we only greet the person who is in front of us. This exhibition of three female artists is meant to symbolize that, not the one person, but the whole South African community is present. 

However, if we know more about Africa, we also realize that there are many different tribes and cultures in South Africa. It is not only one. Therefore when I was working on my proposal and my idea, I realized, I as a Western white woman cannot dictate the content of this exhibition. I therefore spoke with Lethabo Gumede, researcher at The Melrose Art Gallery and DuduBloom More about my idea. I asked them both if the putting together of Helen Sebidi, dr. Esther Mahlangu and DuduBloom More would be a possibility and an honor maybe? Would something like this be received in a good way? Both answered me, that they were glad I acknowledge the different tribes and cultures, but they were sure it would be welcomed.  

Set up:

The first room will represent the two elders: Helen Sebidi and dr. Esther Mahlangu. On the left wall three works of Helen Sebidi will be placed and on the right side of the room three works of dr. Esther Mahlangu will be placed.  A division wall will be placed in the middle of the room, parallel to the left and right hand side walls. Preferably with openings to visualize/symbolize the separateness and connectedness of the two elder artists. In the adjoining room the four works of DuduBloom More will be placed. Three of her works will be placed next to each other on a wall placed in the middle of the room. The wall will be parallel with the back wall and situated in the middle of the room. The two bigger works will be hanged on the outer side and the smaller work Glory, Glory will be placed in the middle. Her biggest work called I’ve got Love to give will be placed on the back wall alone. By placing the works like this, the visitor will first get an impression of the two acclaimed elder artists. Then with that knowledge in mind, they will see the work of the younger female artist – new work that is linked to the past and from the present.

For the information about Helen Sebidi, I have used the book : Mmakgabo Mmapula Mmankgato Helen Sebidi, David Krut Publishing, 2009. Two articles on the internet gave me more information, one by Valeria Geselev: 

and the other one by Kwanele Sosibo from the Mail and guardian:

For the work of dr. Esther Mahlangu I spoke with Lethabo Gumede, she works for the Melrose Art Gallery that is representing dr. Esther Mahlangu. Lethabo Gumede is working on a retrospective of dr. Esther Mahlangu’s work.  And to hear more about the meaning of the work of DuduBloom More I have spoken to her myself. 

Knowledge about African traditions I gained from the book Indaba, My Children – African Tribal History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs written by Credo Mutwa (1964 /edition 1998) and more knowledge about the life of Sarah Baartman I found in the book The Hottentot Venus, The Life and Death of Sarah Baartman by Rachel Holmes (2007 – edition 2020). 

In the following I will present the works of art that I chose for this exhibition.

I hope you will find it a meaningful experience. 


 and try again.


Mmakgabo Mmapula Mmankgato Helen Sebidi,

Searching for the loss of old traditions, 2005

Oil on canvas 102 x 69 cm private collection

Next to the preface written by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen of the book MMakgabo MMapula Mankato Helen Sebidi (2009) is the painting placed called Searching for the Loss of Old Traditions. In the preface we read that Helen Sebidi had specifically asked to for the inclusion in  the book of words by the traditional leader Kgosi Thame Moepie.

Law-Viljoen writes: “What dominated the conversation was a passionate appeal from all of the interlocutors to the past and to tradition. But this was not a nostalgic longing for something lost or the desire to turn back the clock but rather a recognition of the need for people to know themselves, to know where they belong and to communicate their sense of belonging to each other.” 


Mmakgabo Mmapula Mmankgato Helen Sebidi,

The Grandmother Bears the Mother’s children, 2005 Oil on canvas 100x 76 private collection


Because her mother couldn’t take care of Helen Sebidi in the city, she lived with her grandmother in the rural area ( Skilmanspaad in Mpumalanga). Her grandmother has played an important role in the upbringing of Helen Sebidi. She instigated a hard work ethic in Helen, taught her traditional values and she has played an important role in teaching her creative skills. Besides this her grandmother taught Helen Sebidi about the prophetic role of the elders. Helen Sebidi came to respect their prophetic ability. “They dreamt that things would happen… and it (sic) happened” (p27). Still today grandmothers often take over the role of parent for their children’s children because unfortunately still today many parents do not live in a situation wherein they can combine a job with raising their children. 

3) Mmakgabo Mmapula Mmankgato Helen Sebidi,

Destroyed people trying to face the world, 2014-2015

95×56 Oil on Canvas 

The title of this painting seems to be referring to people who are trying to deal with the problems in their lives that colonialism has caused. We can identify three heads and one face has different colour eyes. According to Valeria Geselev ‘they could be the various faces of one soul, our inner contradicting voices, and they could be three different people merged into the same situation.’ Geselev in her article also explains that ‘duality as inherent in all living creatures’ is a leitmotif in Helen Sebidi’s artwork. The use of a musical instrument when trying to face the world, is important to notice as well. As music plays an important role in African cultures. This work for me symbolizes the healing of trauma that many African people have to go through because of the damage done to their traditional culture by colonialism. It is the facing of trauma that makes it possible to find new paths to walk on in the future. For Helen Sebidi, I believe, these new paths lead to the discovering of the old traditions of her grandmother. 


Esther Mahlangu, Ndbele Abstract, 2022

Acrylic on canvas

180 cm in diameter 

Dr. Esther Mahlangu is an 85 year old woman who grew up in the rural area of Mpumalanga as part of the Ndbele culture in South Africa. When I was researching abstract painters from Africa dr. Esther Mahlangu came up and when I saw her work I was immediately awed by her originality and sameness with the Dutch painter Mondriaan that I am familiar with because of my own heritage. I have learned only recently that Mondriaan’s abstract paintings originated in a deep religious spirituality practice. Because of this knowledge the works of Mondriaan meant more then before. When I saw the similarity of dr. Esther Mahlangu’s work, I wondered if her works had a similar meaning as point of reference. Research taught me it did, albeit different as Mondriaan’s point of reference, her work is deeply rooted in the Ndbele culture.


Esther Mahlangu, Homestead III, 2021

Acrylic on canvas

120×180 cm

In the Ndbele culture women are taught to paint with chicken feathers and using cow dung and other natural and available sources to paint on the walls of their homes. When a woman is going to marry, she moves to the village of her new family. She will there paint the walls of her new home. This is a way for the villagers to get to know her. She will use the murals to express who she is. If she is using mainly squares and rectangles it will mean that she will honour old traditions and fit in the established culture of her new home. If she is painting circles, it will mean that she is someone who embraces change, she will be someone who is open to embracing new things within her new home.  


Esther Mahlangu, Ndbele Abstract, 2022

Acrylic on canvas

180 cm in diameter

Esther Mahlangu is an artist who as you can see with the circles represented here, embraces change. She already created change in her culture when she broke away from the creating of paintings on murals. She started to paint on canvas, hence making her art available for people to see around the world. Her artwork is made without any measuring tool, she does not use a ruler or preliminary drawings. When she started to receive recognition, acrylic paints were made available to her and she started to use those too. A whole new colour palette was within her reach and she used that. What came into being is a mix between tradition and modernity, I believe it is this openness to change that is valuable to remember. 

DuduBloom More 


DuduBloom More, Soft Black 2021

Handmade disks with found cardboard and acrylic wool

103 x 60 x 5 cm

Framed: 115.5 x 78.5 x 10.5 cm

I invited the young South African artist DuduBloom More for a conversation about her work. She joined me one morning and we had an inspiring conversation about her work and her art practice. I had found information about her older work on the internet, but not about these works, which resonated a certain femininity and softness which I liked and this is also why I include her work in my exhibition. 

During the conversation the artist DuduBloom More explained to me that when making this work she had a certain character in mind. A gentle giant who is soft on the inside but very strong on the outside. 

In these works with thread it is the intention of the artist to show the softness of the black female. 


DuduBloom More, Glory Glory 2021

Handmade disks with acrylic wool wrapped around found cardboard

54 x 20 x 9 cm

Framed: 74 x 36.5 x 10.5 cm

The artist made this work during an interview about her work with a friend. The energy that was in the room during the interview and during her work on this piece reminded her of a favorite House song called Glory. It is why she called this work Glory Glory. The artist told me that these circles were in her mind now all the time. Her previous work included texts and triangles for example. They were a representation of trauma and were an important part of her art practice to deal with trauma. However, mental health for her includes the moving away from those feelings and instead, moving into joy and a lightness of being. That is when she found the circles in her mind. She said, she can’t stop making them. 


DuduBloom More, Pink Overload 2021

Handmade disks with found cardboard and acrylic wool

90 x 60 x 5 cm

Framed: 115.5 x 78.5 x 10.5 cm

The artist DuduBloom More explained to me that when making this work she had a certain character in mind. This character is a bubbly person who is very feminine and expressive and outgoing. I asked her about the found cardboard, she explained to me, that in the beginning of making these circles she used what was available to her. But she is now committed to resourcing high quality cardboard to use in her practice. She was never introduced formally to this practice. She found a tutorial on the internet from Sheila Hicks and she just tried to work with thread and needle, and it came to her naturally. 


DuduBloom More, I’ve got love to give, 2022

Handmade Disks with found Cardboard and Acrylic wool on canvas

150 x 150 cm

Framed: 152 x 152 x 5 cm

This work started as a challenge for the artist. She was invited to be part of an international art fair in Cape Town and she was asked to make a big work. She had never worked on a scale like this, so she felt challenged. But she told me, that once she started working on it, she moved into joy and the feeling of a challenge disappeared gradually and she moved into a state of continuous joy while making this. For me personally to see that DuduBloom More naturally started to work in patterns is interesting to notice. What I learned about African art traditions is that patterns are often used to symbolize something. In the whole body of work of these three South African women I see a tendency to the use of patterns and especially now at this moment in time the pattern of circles is emerging. 


I believe change is key to these three artists that I choose to represent South Africa at this moment in time.

It is the being and staying in a place of tradition or feeling and then moving on to a new phase in life. Helen Sebidi moved from trauma back to the valuable traditions that were present because of her grandmother and Esther Mahlangu moved from painting traditionally to embracing modern techniques and tools and Dudu Bloom moved from trauma into joy. 

I hope that with the representation of these three artists together in Het Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Dutch audience will also embrace change. The change of looking with inspired eyes to Africa and its beautiful African women and men and her country.