Dakeno Mark: A Box Full of Coloured Kokis
Born, on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, Dakeno Mark lived in ‘Apartheid’ up to the age of fourteen, before emigrating to Australia. His earliest memories of being an artist in South Africa were drawing ‘religious scenes’ in Sunday School, where he was told he was ‘the best’ at drawing.
Early pieces of artwork revolved around a keen fascination for Marvel Comics, drawing characters with his prize collection of ‘Kokis’ (coloured textas). As a seven-year-old he recalls collecting tear gas canisters that had been actually fired at students during the 1976 riots in Athlone, Cape Town. He made more creative ‘weapons’ out of them and they were his favorite toys for a while.
Loving film from nine years of age and onwards, he managed to walk through dangerous street gang areas where crime was rampant to frequent local cinemas. He was underage, accompanied by his cousins and coloured friends who were all looking forward to this visual treat. Cinema gave him a snapshot of the world beyond Apartheid and allowed him to fantasize about these places where everyone was ‘equal’. After cinema screenings, a visit to the comic book store was essential.
Dakeno also had family members who showed immense talent with artistic tendencies. An Uncle was a successful oil painter, his Grandfather was skilled in “wood marquetry”, and another Uncle was a skilled woodworker who built grandfather clocks and intricately carved furniture.
He doesn’t remember being exposed to the great artists, not in primary or high school. “In our house we had just one Picasso print in the dining room,” he says. “I hated this thing, it was Child holding a Dove … yet, symbolically, the dove, meaning ‘peace’, was a sign for a better life in Australia. It was only after immigrating to Australia with my family that I realized how much freedom and opportunity we had here compared to our home country.”
Dakeno lived, as a child, in a protected “fantasy world”, as he puts it, safe within the compounds of his home, his school, his suburb and the places he was allowed to go to. That didn’t stop him experiencing being “mugged by blacks” for money, or learning to be ‘street-wise’ and to live within the boundaries of ‘Whites in Charge’. The caste system was ingrained in South Africa, and there was no mixing with any persons of different skin colour.
To be born as a ‘Coloured’ (with both white and black ancestors) and therefore not accepted by white or black communities, was trying, confusing and unsettling for Mark. Ultimately he decided that the question of where his ‘roots’ lay did not belong in a country that did not accept him. Considered a second-class citizen, he could soon see that the progression to rebellion at some point – getting involved in street-gangs or some anti-government group – was inevitable were he to stay in South Africa.
It is interesting that one can see in Dakeno’s Stencil Series, the focus on each individual portrait, with a link to their past, drawn as meaningful, individual stencils showing cultural links to their land of origin. It amounts to a beautiful example of Mark’s “quest for belonging”.
In Australia, Dakeno studied with Peter Foster for seven years of “intense classes learning the ‘Right-Brain-Method’ of studying the human form and portraiture”. He has mastered the fundamentals of drawing using graphite, charcoal and pastel. He also likes the fluidity of using ‘watercolour’, where he can be free and spontaneous. Influencial watercolour artists for him are William Blake and John Singer-Sargeant. Dakeno also looks to Klimt for inspiration when he focuses on his “visionary and etheral” pieces.
At present, Dakeno has pieces in the Jackman Gallery in St.Kilda and is studying Art Therapy, exploring art as a ‘healing modality’ in conjunction with ongoing exploration and development as an artist. He is also in the process of developing a Graphic Novel, which is strongly influenced by his childhood obsession with comic books. Very few of Dakeno’s ‘Koki Sketches’ have survived in the transition from Cape Town to Australia.
Artist site – dakenomark.com