(b. 1943 Marapyane, South Africa)

Mmakgabo Mmapula Helen Sebidi was born in 1943 in Marapyane, in what was then the Northern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga). As her mother was working in the city for much of her childhood, she grew up with her grandmother, who taught her the values that would guide and sustain her life. This includes the channelling of spirit back into the world through hard work, the commitment of the self to the community, but most of all through acts of creativity – whether this be cooking, making mud walls, creating murals, making pots and calabashes, weaving, beading, dress-making, drawing or painting. 

For Sebidi, the artist starts from a root of pain and conflict, and works her way towards the redemption of both herself and those around her through the act of making. The creator becomes invisible during this process and is the channel through which the spirit world flows. The artwork can be seen as the trace of this redemptive journey. Sebidi’s art also demonstrates an attempt to go back to a pre-Christian, pre-colonial Africa – to range of symbols, a value system and a way of making meaning of the world.

In her work, Mmakgabo Sebidi traverses mental and physical landscapes with an eye trained on the dangerous, the discomfiting, the traumatic and the ecstatic in human experience. She is deeply grounded in her rural upbringing and traditions but also finely attuned to the rhythms of the city in which she has spent much of her adult life. Sebidi brings together these two worlds in works of great visionary and prophetic power. Her themes are wide-ranging: her cultural roots, the wisdom of the ancestors, the ravages of the modern world on the human psyche, the loss of tradition, the potential of human creativity to build relationships and restore the past.

Sebidi trained in a number of informal art institutions in Johannesburg and for many years exhibited her work – mostly ceramics, landscapes and figurative scenes drawn from her home in Marapyane – at venues such as Artists Under the Sun in Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg. But, while working at the Johannesburg Art Foundation under the tutelage of David Koloane and Bill Ainslie, Sebidi made her first semi-abstract work, a frenzied, visionary work produced in a marathon of painting that terrified the artist and prompted Ainslie to describe it as her ‘miracle’. This marked a dramatic shift for Sebidi, away from her figurative works and landscapes and into a new idiom that is part figuration and part abstraction but that always seeks to escape the boundaries of both. 

Sebidi’s works pulsate with energy. They are dense and exuberant, both formally and thematically. Layers and layers of rich impasto are applied in painstaking detail, often on top of drip paintings. Strange figures, some fantastical and mythological, and some drawn from her own richly storied history, jostle for space on the crowded canvases. At times they evoke a sense of celebration and at other times of terror and loss.

Sebidi has participated in many group and solo shows. She won the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award in 1989, the year after she won a Fulbright Scholarship. She was awarded the Vita Art Award in 1990, and the Silver Award of the Order of Ikhamanga in 2004. Her work is in many private and public collections in South Africa and abroad, including Iziko South African National Gallery; the Johannesburg Art Gallery, and the Smithsonian Institute.



Batlhaping Ba Re!, Norval Foundation, Cape Town, South AFrica 

Tears of Africa, Everard Read, Cape Town, South Africa 


They Are Greeting, Standard Bank Gallery, Albany Museum, Makhanda, South Africa


Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi: An exhibition of paintings and prints, Michaelis Galleries, Cape Town, South Africa

They Are Greeting, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa   


Solo, Oman


The Artificial Shelter Foundation, Tilburg, Netherlands


Helen Sebidi, Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

Irma Stern Museum, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

Association of Arts, Namibia


Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner exhibition, toured South Africa, Namibia & Zimbabwe until 1992

Solo, London, UK

Solo, Hamburg, Germany

Solo, Museo Contemporaneo, Santiago, Chile


Federated Union of Black Artists, Johannesburg, South Africa



Investec Cape Town Art Fair, with Everard Read, Cape Town, South Africa


When we see us: A century of Black figuration in painting, Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, with Everard Read, Cape Town, South Africa

When Rain Clouds Gather: Black South African Women Artists 1940-2000, Norval Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa

Mapping Another Route, Goodman, London, UK

Rembrandt in the Karoo, Jan Rupert Art Centre, Graaff-Reinet, South Africa


Ancestors & Dreams in African Art, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa & Jacaranda, New York, USA

Her…,Sanlam Art Gallery, Bellville, South Africa

Yakhal’ Inkomo, the Bongi Dhlomo Collection, Javett-UP, Pretoria, South Africa


My whole body changed into something else, Stevenson, Cape Town & Johannesburg, South Africa

Oasis: 25th anniversary exhibition, Everard Read, Cape Town, South Africa

Bag Factory 30 Years: So Far, The Future, FADA Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa


Staring Straight to the Future, online exhibition, Everard Read, UK & South Africa 

The Portrait Show, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa

We’ve Come to Take You Home #1, Michaelis Galleries, Cape Town, South Africa


Mellon Foundation Residency exhibition, Javett-UP, Pretoria, South Africa


Crossing the Night, Idris Naim Foundation and the National Institute of Fine Arts, Oaxaca, Mexico

Investec Cape Town Art Fair, with Everard Read, Cape Town, South Africa

32nd Biennial of São Paolo

The People’s Art, collaboration between Iziko South African National Gallery and Orms, Cape Town, South Africa


FNB Art Joburg, with Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa

A Painting Today, Stevenson, Cape Town, South Africa


The Quiet Violence of Dreams, group exhibition, Stevenson, Cape Town & Johannesburg, South Africa

Fundação Bienal de Sāo Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil 


Centenary Exhibition, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa


Great South African Nude, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa 


Joburg Art Fair,with Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa


Mapping the Route from the 60s, Goodman,  Johannesburg, South Africa


Telkom exhibition, South Africa

Artists in Conversation, Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria, South Africa


Visible Visions, Hagen, Essen, Berlin, Osnabrück (Germany); Tilburg (Netherlands)

Resistance, Reconciliation and Reconstruction, MTN Collection, Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria, South Africa


Visible Visions, Electric Workshop, Johannesburg, South Africa


The Markers, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy

Land, group exhibition, Unisa Gallery, Pretoria, South Africa


Axis Gallery, New York, USA

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Krannert Art Museum & Kinkead Pavilion, USA


Human Rights Institute Exhibition, National Art Gallery, Durban, South Africa

Changing Screens Exhibition, The Firs, Rosebank, South Africa 

Judging of competition at Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa


Lisbon Expo, Lisbon, South Africa

World Wide Workshop & Exhibition, Sydney, Australia


Thupelo Art workshop and exhibition, Cape Town, South Africa

Biennale in Museum Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa

Finders Keepers, Sunday Times, Iziko SA National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

The Laager included in a group exhibition, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Santiago, Chile

Centre of the Arts, Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco, USA

South Africa’s Finest Painters, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa 

Common and Uncommon Ground, South African Art to Atlanta, City Gallery East, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Origin, Hamburg, Germany


Objects of Defiance, Spaces of Contemplation, Africus: Johannesburg Biennale, Museum Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa

Women’s Day exhibition, Paarl Museum, Paarl, South Africa

Siyawela: Love, Loss & Liberation in Art from South Africa, Birmingham Gas Street Museum, Birmingham, UK

Africa95, Royal Academy, London, UK


Six Women from Southern Africa, Lisbon, Portugal

Civic Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa


Il Croce del Sud, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy

Graphics Exhibition, Jyväskylä, Finland; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Il Croce Del Sud, Rome, Italy

African Hei-ti-@e, Uranienborgveien, Oslo, Norway

Women From Africa, Savannah Gallery of Modern Art, Bethnal Green, London, Uk

Three person show with Noria Mabasa & Lucky Sibiya, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa


Future Realms, The Africa Futuristic Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

Art from South Africa, South Africa National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa


A Grain of Wheat, Art Gallery of the Commonwealth Institute, London, UK

The Challenge of Colonisation, 4th Havana Biennial, Havana, Cuba  


Art from South Africa, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK

National Art Museum, Maputo, Mozambique

Zabalaza Festival, South African Festival, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, UK


Ten Years of Collecting, Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa 

Pachipamwe II: the avant garde in Africa, Cyrene Mission, Zimbabwe

Johannesburg Biennale, Museum Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa

Finders Keepers, South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria, South Africa

South Africa’s Finest Painters, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa

Art Images in Southern Africa, Kulturhuset, Stockholm, Sweden

Common and Uncommon Ground, City Gallery East, Atlanta, USA


The Neglected Tradition, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

SA Potters Association

Cape Town Triennial, toured South Africa


Vita Art Now, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

Delfiri/FUBA Creative Quest Exhibition, FUBA

FUBA (Seven Woman Artists)

Thupelo Workshop exhibition, Johannesburg Art Foundation, Johannesburg & NSA Gallery, Durban, South Africa

Economic Contemporary Artists Fund exhibition, USA


Art for Alexandra, Johannesburg Art Foundation (Sotheby's South Africa Limited), Johannesburg, South Africa

Thupelo Workshop Exhibition, Johannesburg Art Foundation, Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa 

Rembrandt Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa


South African Potter’s Association, Johannesburg, South Africa


Brush and Chisel Club, Johannesburg, South Africa


Washington, USA (organised by a private collector)


Artists under the Sun, Johannesburg, South Africa


Africana Museum, South Africa

Art Workshop, UK

Sasol, South Africa

Unisa, South Africa

North-West University, South Africa

University of Cape Town, South Africa

Tatham Art Gallery, South Africa

Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa

Centre for Africa Studies, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Iziko South African National Gallery, South Africa

1820 Settlers Foundation, South Africa  

Standard Bank Collection, South Africa

Pretoria Art Museum, South Africa

The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, USA 

University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa  

Price Forbes, South Africa 

Federated Insurance Co., South Africa

Department of Education and Training, South Africa

Galerie Adriana Schmidt, Germany 

University of Wolverhampton, UK 

Roque Investments, South Africa 

ABSA Bank, South Africa

World Bank, South Africa

South African Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa

Gencor, South Africa

First National Bank, South Africa

SA Permanent Bank, South Africa

Government of Australia 

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, USA

Aboriginal Art Museum, Australia

Art Bank, South Africa

Spier Art Collection, South Africa

Bongi Dhlomo Collection, South Africa



2016 Goethe-Institut Vila Sul residency, Brazil

2015 Mbokodo Award, South Africa

2011 Arts and Culture Trust Lifetime Achievement Award for Visual Art, South Africa

2005 Nomination for ILKSSA: National Heritage Council, National Living Treasure Award, South Africa 

Oman Association of the Arts Award, Oman

2004 Order of Ikhamanga Silver Award given by the Presidency, South Africa

2002  Nomination for the Human Sciences Research Council Living Treasure Award, South Africa 

1990 Vita Fine Art Award, South Africa 

1989 Fulbright Scholarship, USA

 Standard Bank Young Artist Award, South Africa 

1988 Star Woman of the Year finalist, South Africa