The artist also became known as a prominent boxer and displayed a keen interest in sports and their role during the apartheid system. Rugby Match is a particularly interesting work as it highlights the parallels during that period between the hardships of being a black artist and the limitations placed on black athletes. Not only were South Africa’s national teams entirely composed of white players, the South African government went so far as to ban or discourage foreign black athletes from touring in South Africa. Segregation in sports, especially in Rugby, became a key point of contention both during apartheid and after the fall of apartheid in 1994. Using bold colours and highly gestural strokes, Ngatane manages to communicate both the physical intensity of rugby as well as the political significance of the sport within a highly fractured society.
Within his more expressive works such as Rugby Match, Ngatane tended to abstract his subjects to the point where he would need to create black grids over the top of his compositions, in order to formally hold them together. Ngatane’s grid is also used to suggest movement as it flows backward behind the figures, giving the illusion that they are falling forward onto the rugby ball. Tragically, Ephraim Mojalefa Ngatane succumbed to tuberculosis in 1971 at the young age of 33.
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