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Mr John Koenakeefe Motlhankana (Posthumous)

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Mr John Koenakeefe Motlhankana (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to the field of art. His works remain an inspiration to many budding and established artists.
Profile of Mr John Koenakeefe Motlhankana

Mr John Koenakeefe Motlhankana was born on 27 September 1903 in the village of Dinokana, Lehurutshe near Zeerust in North West. His father Mogodiri Motlhankana was a sculptor who made furniture and traditional utensils to grind millet and maize, which influenced his interest in art. Motlhankana would often court trouble for neglecting the family goats while indulging in his pastime of making clay objects and painting on rocks. His talent did not go unnoticed at school when Reverend Hale, a missionary at the Lutheran Church, encouraged his father to allow him to paint during his spare time.

This encouragement saw him later being sent to the prestigious Tigerkloof Training College where he obtained a teacher’s diploma. Reverend Hale and the London Missionary Society decided to send him to pursue art studies at a higher level in the coastal town of Luderitz in Namibia under the tutelage of a French woman, Mary du Point.

His one-year hiatus in Namibia helped to immerse him in the rudiments of art education. He subsequently spent five years in Germany, three of which were spent at the Kunst Academy in Dusseldorf in West Germany. He became the first of the pioneer African artists to establish an art school, called the White Studio, at his abode in Annandale Street in Sophiatown. His singularity of purpose in art saw him giving instruction in sketching, painting, sculpture, piano forte and flower arrangement at the school.

The students between the ages of 12 and over 30 were drawn from a cross-section of the community and from all races. Motlhankana carried on with the school until people were forcefully removed from Sophiatown. He first settled in Dube and later in Moroka in Soweto, where he set up his Lawn Show Studio in front of his house, which he adorned with aloes and flowers.

He was the founding member of the Artist Market Association, which exhibited under the theme of Artist Under the Sun at places like the Zoo Lake, Joubert Park and Pietermaritzburg. He was the consummate artist who appreciated the musical virtuosity of western classical masters such as Handel, Beethoven and Mozart. Motlhankana was also a distinguished community leader and he founded the Moroka Sympathising Friends Scheme, which he chaired and was later elected its lifetime president.