Ex Libris / from the libraries of… explores the interconnectedness between visual art and literature through the works of Henry Coombes, Karlien de Villiers, Chepape Makgato and Elzahn Nel. On view at the Breytenbach Centre in Wellington until 12 September 2023.

Curated by Heidi Erdmann.


Sometime back I was searching for a gallery space to host an exhibition of new works by Karlien de Villiers. I was looking for a windowless space with pale white walls from which the outside world was banished. In other words, an impersonal silent container to merely hold the artworks. The gallery at the Breytenbach Centre was on my list, but it offered a completely opposite experience. There, the outside world was not banished, rather, it was let in. The gallery is not silent, it has a voice. It forms part of a larger space with a defined purpose. I had a What If moment and decided to curate a group exhibition instead, where the gallery (the space) is a participant in the exhibition rather than merely a container. With De Villiers’ unique practice as both visual artist and author of graphic novels (and with the gallery as a participant) the project shifted to an exploration into the reciprocal relationships between two immersive artforms, literature and visual art. Coombes was a natural fit for this project. He had recently completed a series of interpretative illustrations for a book of poetry. With Makgato and Nel onboard, the scope of the exhibition was extended. They are both artists/writers and both use textiles in their artmaking processes. The title simply framed the project. The exhibition draws material from the libraries of the four participating artists as well as the library of the space.


HENRY COOMBES lives and works in Mauritius where he was born in 1948. He is an artist and illustrator. For the past four decades his fine art practice has primarily focused on themes of sensuality (Eros) and death (Thanatos). Coombes likes to add that a mere lifetime is not nearly enough to fully engage the full potential and richness of these themes. He is also the creator and illustrator of the popular children’s book series, The Adventures of Tikulu. The first book was launched in Mauritius in 1998 and he is currently working on book number nineteen. In 2017 Coombes illustrated a series of poems translated by the Mauritian poet Michel Ducasse for the book, Enn bouke bwa tanbour / tradiksion. For the Ex Libris exhibition Coombes produced an interpretative illustration of Breyten Breytenbach poem, Letter to Butcher from Abroad written in 1972. L’état d’urgence (State of Emergency) was produced as an illustration for the poem, Les Amis du Peuple Veillent written in 1965 by Jean Erenne (alias René Noyau) and is also included.

Ex Libris
Eros series
Thanatos series
Thanatos series
Eros series

KARLIEN DE VILLIERS was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1975. Her style of comic book art disrupts categories of art, design and illustration. It occupies the liminal spaces between these easy relegations. Her first autobiographical graphic novel, Meine Mutter war eine schöne Frau (My Mother was a Beautiful Woman) was published in German in 2006 and translated into Spanish (2007), Italian (2008) and French (2009). It tells the story of her childhood set in apartheid South Africa during the 1970s and early 1980s. She is a co-author of Graça’s Dream, an inspiring story of Graça Machel’s dream to instil a love for reading and learning in the children of Mozambique and the rest of Africa. Her second graphic novel Die Wildevroue (Les Femmes Sauvages) is due for publication.

The Madness of Crowds (2023)
Book Cover series

CHEPAPE MAKGATO was born in Johannesburg in 1988. Makgato is an independent visual artist, theatre producer, arts writer and educator, curator and researcher. He is the Chief Curator at William Humphreys Art Gallery in Kimberly and the art curator for Imbiza. He holds a Masters Degree in Fine Art from University of the Witwatersrand and is a PhD candidate in the Art and Music Department at the University of South Africa. He most often works in collage and uses African print fabric to tell his stories. He founded Samanthole Creative Projects in 2010. This Limpopo-based community art organisation focuses on arts and literacy youth programmes. Additionally, Khehla Chepape Makgato Youth Libraries also operate in rural schools in Limpopo.

Second Born
Installation view

ELZAHN NEL was born in Paarl in 1987.

Nel is a South Africa-born artist who spent her childhood in the Boland and the Karoo. In her twenties she exchanged Africa for Asia and lived in Bangkok for six years. Her installation Drawn in Time, produced during a residency at the Tentacles Art Space was selected for installation on the facades of a major Bangkok building. In 2020 she was one of two female African artists to participate in Bangkok’s prestigious Galleries Night.

She returned to South Africa in 2021. Her installation, Blaaie uit die Eikestad was shortlisted for the Route 44 sculpture competition and The Sound of Tension was shortlisted for the Spier Light Art Festival. In 2022 she was selected as the inaugural mentee for the Legacy Mentorship Program. Nel’s primary mode of expression is through drawing and installation and she deploys repetitive processes to weave and unpack narratives of lived experiences. She lives and works in Prince Alfred Hamlet.

In 2020, while in Bangkok, she developed a collaborative embroidery project with a group of nuns. This project has since developed into a book. A chapter from this cloth book is included in the exhibition.

227 Days of 2017
Send Word
Send Word
Sound of Tension

All photographs taken by Willem Mulder.