JAMES DOROTHY SETLOGELO
B.A. Hon. (Fine Arts) Sunderland Polytechnic.
©Agnes Sam 2017
The artist James Dorothy Setlogelo lived on his parents’ farm in Terbanchu in South Africa. He was the son of Dr Setlogelo and Mrs Dorothy Setlogelo. They were a Roman Catholic family of twelve children. His father, Dr Setlogelo was an African who studied at the University of Edinburgh. His mother was a Jewish lady who encouraged her son to develop his interest in art and whose first name he adopted when he became a professional artist.
Although three of James Dorothy’s sisters Catherine, Elizabeth and Dorothy studied at the Roman Catholic university of Pius XII in Roma, Lesotho, James decided to leave South Africa and come to the United Kingdom where he studied Fine Art at Sunderland Polytechnic obtaining a IIi for his Fine Arts degree.
James Dorothy’s paintings and drawings reflect his passion for Africa in that it focuses on the people of Africa. His work was exhibited at York University.
I interviewed James Dorothy in Newcastle.
Because the family were known to me James spoke without inhibition about his preference for non racial artists’ groups, the people who influenced him, his interests, his political views, his perception of the world of artists, and of being an artist in the north of England, of his experience applying for a grant and of the restrictions of being in a Black artistic group. Coming from a family with a European parent James did not appreciate the exclusion of White people from what he referred to as ‘the club’.
‘I prefer the multiracial environment of London, Manchester and Edinburgh. They tolerate us more – especially the Scots and Irish. Small towns are typical of Afrikaans dorps. Institutions and individuals patronise Black artists. If you dare to be critical, the conclusion is that you do not play the game. They perceive us as Black stereotypes.’
Then James went on to answer some questions I put to him:
Question: ‘Is this your first application for a grant?’
Answer: ‘Formally, no. But I don’t receive solid encouragement to apply.’
Question: ‘When did you come to the UK?’
Answer: ‘I arrived in February 1979.’
Question: ‘As an artist who experienced apartheid is there anything that disturbs or hurts you more than anything else?’
Answer: ‘Yes. Racism.’
Question: ‘If there was no racism, what contribution would you like to make to the field of artists?’
Answer: ‘I would encourage people to have a cosmopolitan outlook on life. I would encorage internationalism.’
Question: ‘What is it like to be considered Black? In a country that is free and so unlike South Africa?’
Answer: ‘Painful. I get a lot of racial abuse. From the lower middle classes and from the working classes.’
Question: ‘Where do you think you would practice your artistic gift in a more relaxed manner? In South Africa? Or here in the UK?’
Answer: ‘In South Africa.’
Question: ‘Why is that?’
Answer: ‘Because our bourgeoisie are more sophisticated. Black people have more energy, are more creative, have more vision than Whites. Pushkin was an African.’
I believe we were speaking about his eldest sister when the following question arose.
Question: ‘Where would you like to be buried?’
Answer: ‘In Africa. On our farm.’
The Setlogelo family had resisted all attempts from the government to appropriate their farm during apartheid. They succeeded. Today they still retain ownership of their farm in Terbanchu.
Question: ‘What would you like BAN to do for you?’
Answer: ‘They should do something about Grants. Grants to fund artists, poets, researchers, among the Afro-Caribbeans. There is a danger of ghettoising ‘Blackness’.
Question: ‘How do you involve what people refer to as the host community? Would you be prepared to do a commission for a library, the arts council etc if you were invited to do so?’
Answer: ‘Yes, if it was at an Afro-Caribbean arts centre, or the school where my son attends.’
Question: ‘Why are you a part of BAN if you do not like the exclusion of White artists?’
Answer: ‘It shouldn’t be necessary in a so-called multi-cultural society to form racial groupings. But unfortunately it appears to be necessary. I go along with the words of Malcolm X who said, ‘All is necessary. We are not represented in the media, especially in television, except as stereotypes.’
Question: ‘What is the Black attitude to Whites in South Africa?’
Answer: ‘We embrace the minority groups and we believe in loving them.’
Answer: ‘Because it is our nature to love. To love people. Whites in South Africa have been divorced from our culture because of materialism.’
Question: ‘Do you agree Blacks are good in music and dancing? Or is that a stereotype?
Answer: ‘We have natural rhythmic qualities. They have no rhythm in their bodies because they don’t know how to celebrate life. Optimistic – we Blacks are perennially optimistic. With empty stomachs we are optimistic. I spent eighteen months in West Berlin – from 1969 to early 1971. I found Germans to be more tolerant and forgiving. It was easier to go out with a German girl than with an English girl.’
Question: ‘If you were to live your life again as a Black man what advice would you give to a Black man to raise his dignity?’
Answer: ‘I would suggest they read the ‘Diary of Anne Frank’. – to forgive, to forgive, to forgive. And to tolerate.’
Question: ‘Who has influenced you, in addition to the encouragement of your mother?’
Answer: ‘A quintessential Englishman I met in 1972 in a bar in Lesotho. He influenced me to be subtly arrogant. It was Graham Greene. He worked with Duvaliers in Haiti. He mentioned ‘The Comediennes’. He interrogated me about my situation in South Africa. And I interrogated him. He was far more analytical than I was since I was a small boy compared to him. He bought one of my paintings.’
Question: ‘If you were to exhibit your work in the lowest of the lowest venues as you put it, who would you invite to open the exhibition?’
‘1. Ken Livingstone. 1. Bernie Grant
- Bill Oddie 2. Ben Okri
- Claire Short 3. Moira Stewart.’
Question: ‘Would you be prepared to conduct a workshop with children, with young people or with adults if you were paid?’
Answer: ‘Capital yes.’
James Dorothy died in York in 2010.
James Dorothy: B A (Hons) Fine Art, IIi from Sunderland Polytechnic.
© Agnes Sam. 2017