Artist Profile


Alfred Thoba

b. 1951, Johannesburg (Sophiatown)

During the apartheid era, Alfred Thoba was living illegally in a small garage in Johannesburg, painting at night with the aid of a paraffin lamp. He was forced to transport his paintings from hiding place to hiding place, in fear of the police uncovering his politically-charged work. Following the Soweto Riots of 1976 – a subject that inspired one of Thoba’s best-known and most controversial paintings – artists decided it was time they contributed more actively to the condemnation of the violence ravaging their country. This resolve inspired a movement now referred to as Resistance Art, and Thoba was one of its most active proponents. Thoba’s 1976 Riots was exhibited at Johannesburg’s Market Gallery in January of 1988, as part of the 100 Artists Protest Detention Without Trial Exhibition. The show was subsequently raided by the police, and Thoba’s work was photographed for their files. Thoba’s paintbrush not only condemned white-on-black violence, but also brought to light the effects of apartheid amongst blacks themselves. In the painting She was Murdered in a Crowd, a woman is killed by members of her own community after being accused a traitor to the liberation cause. Years of political engagement through art brought fruitful results: in the now famous work Thank you Mr. FW de Klerk for Handing Over South Africa to Nelson Mandela, Thoba rests his case.

In post-apartheid South Africa, Thoba remains moved by the plight of the people in the black townships: not so much the violence as the effects of urbanization and westernization on traditional values. Frequent subjects include kids who have turned to stealing, prostitution and violence to survive on the streets. Human relationships and personal suffering also serve as inspiration, as do contemporary events, which Thoba draws from newspaper articles. In either case, humanity is central to Thoba’s work, resulting in paintings charged with emotion.

Thoba did not receive any formal art training, and the only exposure to art came through his grandfather, who made pots for the family. Thoba paints in a "naïve" style not unlike that of Henri Rousseau, applying thick coats of acrylic paint onto board, and shaping his figures in a stylized and stiff manner.

Thoba was nominated for the prestigious Vita Art Now Awards in both 1992 and 1994. He has exhibited in New York, Washington, Chicago and Toronto, while one of his exhibitions was sent on a year-long tour to Germany.

Alfred Thoba – cv

1951: born in Soweto [Johannesburg]


No formal training.


1991: Natalie Knight Gallery [Johannesburg]

1994: Sex and Suburbia, Natalie Knight Gallery [Johannesburg]


1987: Group show at Natalie Knight Gallery [Johannesburg]

1988: 100 Artists Protest Detention Without Trial, Market Gallery [Johannesburg]

1989-1990: African Encounters, Dome Gallery [New York], Alex Gallery [Washington], KGI [Toronto]

1990: Group exhibition, Rand Afrikaans University

1992: Vita Art Awards exhibition, Johannesburg Art Gallery

1993: Cultural Diversity, Natalie Knight Gallery [Johannesburg]
South African Art, World Trade Centre, Knight Galleries International [Toronto]

1994: Windows on the New South Africa, World Trade Centre, Knight Galleries International [Toronto]

1995: Africa: The Art of a Continent, Whitechapel Gallery [London, UK]; part of Africa95

1996: Tomorrow is Now, Knight Galleries International [Toronto, Vancouver]

1997: Tommy Motswai, Alfred Thoba and Thomas Kgope, Natalie Knight Gallery and Standard Bank Gallery[(Johannesburg]

1997: Images of Freedom [Arts and Events Gallery, Toronto] Opened by Mr. Patrick Evans South African Consul-General


Resistance Art, Sue Williamson

1992 and 1994: Vita Art Awards Nominee

1992: Images of Man: Contemporary South African Black Art and Artists, by E.J. de Jager, published by Fort Hare University Press: 2-page feature


University of Fort Hare
Africana Museum, Johannesburg
Johannesburg Art Gallery
Sandton Art Museum
Durban Art Museum
Standard Bank Collections (Wits Art Galleries)

Little formal training: observed grandfather making pots for the family. after completeing Standard 6, worked as art filer for a Johannesburg company where he was encouraged to study drawing at Hume College. Became full-time artist, uses thick layers of acrylic paint on canvas or oil on paper.