LIFESTYLE

The Art of Steve Biko

The world's artists have paid tribute to the extraordinary struggle hero.

12/09/2017 13:07 SAST | Updated 12/09/2017 17:26 SAST
Supplied
In 1992, artist Willie Bester painted this moving tribute to his friend Steve Biko.

It's been 40 years since the merciless assassination of struggle hero Steve Biko. Yet today his story and image lives on. His legacy is more relevant to South Africans today than ever before. A breath of fresh air is being brought to his teachings and being adopted by revolutionaries at universities across the country.

Much like Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, Biko has transcended time and even artists have embodied his image in their work. The arts, in particular, have treated him with a poetry that offers a different way to revisit his life.

Read: Steve Biko's Newfound Disciples Are Not Getting Him

If you're looking to memorialise Biko today, here are a few important works we think you should check out.

"You can blow out a candle, but you can't blow out a fire" -- remembering Peter Gabriel's Biko

The lyrics will move you:

September '77

Port Elizabeth weather fine

It was business as usual

In police room 619

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko

Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja

The man is dead

The man is dead

When I try to sleep at night

I can only dream in red

The outside world is black and white

With only one colour dead

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko

Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja

The man is dead

The man is dead

You can blow out a candle

But you can't blow out a fire

Once the flames begin to catch

The wind will blow it higher

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko

Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja

The man is dead

The man is dead

And the eyes of the world are watching now, watching now

When Denzel Washington was nominated for an Oscar for his role in "Cry Freedom"

The film adaptation of Donald Woods' novel of the same name features this moving speech of Biko's, which got Denzel Washington nominated as Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars and the Golden Globe for his retelling of it.

Watch the clip below:

Steve Biko by Pitika Ntuli

Poet and sculptor Pitika Ntuli's seminal poem of Biko is required reading for anyone trying to understand him today:

Friends, Africans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to protest about Steve Biko's death but not to praise him.

The evil that men do live after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it not be with Biko.

The noble Vorster hath told us that Biko was ambitious;

If it were so, it was a grievous fault;

And grieviously hath Biko answered it.

Here under, leave of Vorster and the rest, –

For Vorster is an honourable man;

So are they all honourable men,

Come I to speak at Biko's funeral.

He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

But Vorster says he was ambitious;

And Vorster is an honourable man.

When that poor have cried, Biko wept:

Ambition must be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Vorster says he was ambitious;

And Vorster is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Vorster spoke,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love him once, -and not without cause

What cause withholds, you, then to mourn

O judgement, thou art fled to Verwoerdish beasts,

And men have lost their reason!-Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Biko,

And I will Not pause until he comes back to me.

But yesterday the words of Biko might

Have stood against the world:

Now lies he there

And none so poor to do him reverence.

O Africans, if I were disposed to stir

Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,

I should do Vorster wrong and Botha wrong

Who you all know, are honourable men.

I will not do them wrong;

I rather do myself wrong and you wrong

Than to wrong such honourable men.

O! Pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth;

That I am meek and gentle with these butchers,

Thou art the ruins of the noblest men

That ever lived in the tide

Of times

Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!

Over thy wounds do I prophecy, –

Which like dumb mouths do ope their ruby lips

To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue,-

A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;

Domestic fury and fierce civil strife

Shall cumber all parts of our land

Blood and destruction shall be in so much use;

And dreadful objects so familiar

That mothers would but smile

When they behold their children quarterd

With the hands of war;

All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:

And Biko's spirit, ranging for revenge,

With Tiro by his side come hot from hell,

Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice

Cry Havoc, let slip the dogs of war;

That this foul deed shall smell upon the earth

With carrion men groaning for burial.

Composer Phillip Miller's BikoHausen

At the end of a working lecture tour to South Africa in March 1971, composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and his wife Mary Bauermeister visited Soweto. They were accompanied by Biko, but there is little archival evidence of this meeting of two revolutionary leaders: Biko -- a radical thinker, student and black consciousness leader and Stockhausen -- one of the foremost avant-garde composers of the 20th Century.

"No-one can ever know what exactly transpired when Biko met Stockhausen in Soweto on that day. What their conversation was? What were the topics they might have covered? Music? Politics?" composer Phillip Miller asked ahead of the composition's release.

"We can however imagine and extemporize."

Totes Biko

Tote bags went through a bit of a revolution last year, with all the big-name designers taking their own spin on the casual carrier. A local version by 25-year-old stylist and fashion blogger Siki Msuseni got Insta-fame with her 'Who Killed Biko?' tote bags, which carry a stylised image of the struggle icon and thinker with a tear in his eye.

And then, of course, all the paintings of the famous icon

The Art of Steve Biko