Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Swart, Gert - VM - Gert Swart

Gert Swart: In my Father’s House


Forty-Eight Years

by Gert Swart

In my early forties South Africa became, for the first time, a constitutional democracy (1994). The momentum of this great happening masked something physiological that was happening in me: a mid-life crisis of sorts. As I approached my 48th birthday (which coincided with the year 2000), I felt a deep weariness overcome me. I had lost my sense of being, I felt like an outsider! The opening lines from Dante's Inferno came into sharp focus: 

Midway on our life's journey, I found myself
In a dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard – so tangled and rough.          

As if to reassure myself I started carving 48 sculptures: one for each of the years that I had lived. They all had the same overall dimensions but differed in form. These I housed in a structure in which the pieces could be endlessly rearranged. With each permutation new synergies are formed, creating an inner dynamic that will rejuvenate the aesthetic of the piece. 

A proverb from In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture by Kwame Appiah (Oxford University Press, 1993) says: ‘The matriclan [matrilineal clan] is like the forest; if you are outside it is dense, if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.’ And, it is from this new perspective, that South Africa, and indeed Africa, can experience a renaissance. 


Gert Swart: In my Father’s House, 2003, American poplar and South African cotton wood, L 79 x B  63,5 x H 220 cm. Photo: Antony Wilson. In the collection: Marit and Peter Greenwood.

Gert Swart was born in 1952 in Durban, Natal, South Africa. He has worked as a sculptor in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, for the past 25 years. See his work on 

This meditation is an extract from Jill Addleson’s monthly art newsletter about artists of KwaZulu-Natal of Dec/Jan 2014/15, see

ArtWay Visual Meditation June 21, 2015