I can’t quite remember when I officially met Gabi Nkosi in Durban, but we met on and off in the art scene during the later 90s. One only had to know Gabi for a few minutes to be convinced that she was a really nice person. It was only on a residency at Caversham Press in 2002, where she worked as a studio assistant, that I got acquainted with her much more. It was an all women residency and the six women of different ages, races and backgrounds hit it off from the very beginning. After a day in the studio, we would gather around food and wine and talk in the uninhibited way that women can do when they are alone and familiar.
It was during these sessions that I got to know so much more about Gabi, and shockingly to find out that an ex-boyfriend had once stabbed her during an argument in front of their son. It was hard to imagine that this beautiful young dynamic woman, from whose lips laughter was never a moment away, had endured so much in her young life and had managed so much despite it. Her way of analysing her life and herself informed her many prints.
I became a fan not only of Gabi, which was easy to do, but of her detailed, personal linocuts and silkscreens that recounted scenes from her home life, be it braiding hair around a kitchen table, to feeling like a ‘frog out of water’ in moving between her home at Caversham in Pietermartizburg and Umlazi township in Durban.
I never got the sense that she begrudged any of what she went through, but instead accepted that there were aspects of her life that were conditioned by societal forces she couldn’t control, yet felt she must question.
Gabi was a devout Christian, a dedicated mother, a talented artist, a community worker and an advocate for human rights, which she championed in her artwork. It is thus the harsh irony of life that her right to life was cut short on the 26th of May 2008, when she was brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend in her home in Pietermaritzburg (the ex was also killed in the incident).
According to friends who spoke at her funeral, she hinted that she was afraid that the ex-boyfriend might try to harm her, but tragically her fears were not taken seriously enough. Her untimely death is a most unfortunate example of the levels of abuse and killing of women and children that permeates South African culture. She is yet another statistic, but the magnitude of the loss of this woman can only be truly recognised by all who knew her, if only for a short while. Gabi, my friend, it is no doubt that the South African art scene has been robbed of your great talent; your colleagues of a dedicated worker; your family of a great daughter/sister/mother; your friends of a great soul. We continue to dearly miss you.