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TRIBUTE TO GABI NKOSI (article first published : 2008-06-2)

Statement by Malcolm Christian, Founder and CEO of Caversham Centre for Artists and Writers, on the untimely death of artist Gabi Nkosi, Community Co-ordinator and Programme Manager of the Centre.

Gabisile Nkosi (34), talented artist, printmaker, active community catalyst, mentor, friend, daughter and mother, was tragically killed in her home in Lidgetton in the early hours of Tuesday morning (May 27).

All of us who knew and loved her, including her “family” here at the Caversham Centre for Artists and Writers are trying to make sense of her violent death. Managing all the logistics that accompany a death, helps us in some way, to deal with the horror. However we know that as time passes, we will have to confront the emptiness of her absence. But it is our wish, and we know it would be Gabi’s wish, that we do not focus on the void created but rather on the legacy she leaves behind. We will continue her vision and purpose with the commitment and humanity that she brought to all that she did.

Our first Caversham experience of Gabi was as a newly graduated printmaking student at Durban University of Technology where she was tutored and mentored by Jan Jordaan. We invited her to participate in an international residential fellowship at Caversham. It was this experience which, she said, changed her life and her career. Working with three senior and experienced artists Albert Adams ex-South African living in London, Veerle Rooms from Belgium and Wayne Kline from Atlanta, they worked on the theme of “Baggage” and explored how their own lives related to the theme - collectively creating a body of prints for exhibition. She said that it was as a direct result of this that she began realising how art can change one’s life.

The rest as they say is history. In 2002 we asked her to join Caversham as our first Training Programme Manager and Community Co-ordinator with a brief to assist with workshops and residencies with well-known artists at Caversham Centre and to develop programmes in the local communities. She had a tangible passion for children and their untapped potential and we encouraged her to follow this dream. As a result of her passion and dedication, she established the very first CreACTive Centre, Ulwazi at Jabula Combined School in Lidgetton, with her sights set on growing these centres and the legacy of Caversham.

At Caversham she worked tirelessly with artists, collaborating and using her prodigious skills in linocut to create images that complemented and challenged. Through participating in residencies and workshops she grew her own skills which she applied to enrich her contribution to those at home and beyond. Over the years, as an indispensable part of our lives and of countless others, she became the much loved, respected and recognised face of Caversham Centre. It was such a privilege to have spent time with this truly remarkable human being, learning from her wisdom and compassion.

Recently Gabi wrote: “I continue to grow and be inspired by Caversham Centre working with women, children, professional artists, writers and educators whilst having opportunities to produce and exhibit my own work. I know that I am a proud part of a living legacy.”

With Gabi’s death, we are reminded that legacy does not rest in the future but firmly in the present and that, just as she was, our legacy needs to be dynamic and unequivocally grounded in contribution and humanity. The trauma of loss insists that we revisit what contributed towards the greatness of someone such as Gabi. What were her dreams, passions and the power of her contributions? How do we find the appropriate way to enable her spirit to live on, to inspire and empower? Without this we diminish her and ourselves in demeaning to all that is hopeless and destructive, validating the cowardly act of violence that took her life.

Last year when I asked her what her vision statement would be, she replied in one word, BEYOND. This profound simplicity sums up who she was. A fund is being set up to enable this to begin to be realised. This will be done in consultation with her family with an initial focus on providing for Sandile her much-loved son’s needs, including his education, and the purchasing of her house, which many have visited and where splendid meals and conversations were shared. This property, in the heart of Lidgetton, will continue to provide accommodation and become a permanent home for Ulwazi CreACTive Centre providing workshop and gallery space. The overwhelming response to her loss has resulted in many other suggestions for projects, including the establishment of a museum for her work at Caversham Centre.

Gabi, you will live on in all our hearts and your works and vision will resonate well Beyond Caversham. No longer limited by physical form, your spirit and inspiration will transcend and impact people’s lives in years to come.

A memorial celebration will be held at Jabula Combined School, Lidgetton, on June 6 at 11h00.




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