Encouraged by this experience Dumile (1942-1991) began to show a real interest in Fine Art. He visited an exhibition of Boboreki's sculpture; one of the first exhibitions he had ever seen. He wanted to meet the artist and went to Gallery 101 in Johannesburg to try and find him. There he met the director of the gallery, Madame Haenggi, who was willing to see the young artist's work. After showing her some of his small sculptures and drawings, Dumile was offered a contract with the gallery and his first solo exhibition.
The exhibition was a pivotal moment: Dumile's name and reputation spread quickly in the art world of Johannesburg and his strong, unflinching, expressive drawings made an indelible mark on the landscape of South African art. Within just two years Dumile had three solo exhibitions, represented South Africa with five works at the Sao Paulo Bienniale of 1967, participated in several group exhibitions and received a number of prizes. In the years from 1966 to 1968 there was a surge in interest in the work of black artists, and Dumile was now well networked in this white-black world of left-wing intellectuals. One key figure who took an interest in Dumile following the Gallery 101 exhibition was the artist Bill Ainslie. He quickly became a loyal friend and supporter, championing his work in artistic circles. Ainslie recalls his reaction to Dumile and his work "For me it was a privilege to work with him, the particular nature of his genius and the manner in which it realised itself was entirely unique. He took the raw material of his life in Soweto, and it was a life of real ordeal and translated it into work in a manner which revealed a capacity to face unflinchingly the most frightening extremities of human desperation and cruelty without spilling over into sentimentality or overblown expressionism. His originality led to a new style of drawing in South Africa, but I have not found anybody equal the ferocity and compassion of his work."
Despite the various exhibitions and sudden success, Dumile was in a difficult position. On one hand he was flying the flag for South Africa, yet his works were openly critical of the regime. It could not last, and sure enough the publicity his works received led to him being targeted by the authorities. "I would not have had harassment that I had if not for my ideas and also the titles - always the titles - that I give my work. They couldn't take that, you know. Also some of the compositions that I did."
At the time it was illegal for a Black person to move to a city without proof of having full-time employment. The authorities questioned Dumile's artistic merit, asking him to prove that being an artist was a proper job. Despite having a contract with Gallery 101, he was refused permission to move and instead threatened with eviction to a tribal reservation, which would have meant a certain end to his artistic career. The only alternative which remained was to leave the country: exile.
"The Government have given me six months to stay in Johannesburg. Then they say I must go back to where I was born. To the reserve in the Cape. I want to stay in Johannesburg because here is where my friends are and art. I am trying to get a passport for overseas. I want to see America and Europe. Then I want to live in Swaziland. Why do I want to live in Swaziland? Well, because it isn't my home. So when bad things happen to me there, it won't hurt me so much."
In 1967, Bill Ainslie wrote a letter wrote to Eric Estorick of the Grosvenor Gallery asking him to invite Dumile to London for an exhibition. This letter would not be binding, serving simply to give Dumile the grounds upon which to obtain a passport and visa. Estorick had a long-standing interest in African artists, and duly complied with Ainslie's request.
In 1968 Dumile arrived in London. The Grosvenor Gallery had taken a genuine interest in his work, and Estorick held his drawings in particularly high regard. In the summer of 1969 Dumile held a show of 37 drawings at the gallery, then at Davies Street. Richard Walker of the Arts Review wrote: "Dumile, the African Negro artist, with delicate ink-line drawings of tribal life, achieves a balance between a detached, remarkable European formal expressionism and quiet depth, product of intimate identification with his subject."
Despite these and other shows Dumile had a difficult time in London, living for a long time in a shabby, near-empty basement flat in North London with very little income. His one great passion however was Jazz music, and he spent what little he had in Ronnie Scott's and various other jazz clubs in Soho. He counted among his friends many of the South African jazz musicians of the time, and designed the cover art for a record produced by Hugh Masekela. The two often talked together of their shared home: "His art was about the suffering of our people. That suffering was a very deep scar in his life […] I found him to have been like Frantz Fanon in his understanding of what was happening in South Africa." Masekela also recalls the artist's warmth of character, how Dumile always used the few pennies he had to come and see him perform, and how, far from being a 'damné de la terre', he had a great sense of humour "He was not a depressed person, he was always looking for a laugh."
Dumile however, quickly became restless in London, and tried persistently to find a feasible way of going to America. It was the late 1970s when Estorick finally managed to facilitate a move to Los Angeles. After a brief stint as a visiting lecturer at UCLA, Dumile moved to New York to attend film school at NYU in the early 1980s, where he found himself studying on the same course as Spike Lee. Another filmmaker and fellow jazz aficionado, Teppei Inokuchi, was Dumile's neighbour at his first New York apartment in Bleecker St. United by a love of Coltrane and Miles Davis, the two became fast friends. "When Dumile was hungry he would walk all the way from Bleecker St. up to La Guardia, where there was a supermarket. At the supermarket he would buy a big and full roast chicken, which he would bring to my place. Since he liked sitting on the floor he would settle there and finish the whole chicken in one sitting. In those days supermarkets used brown paper to cover their chicken and Dumile used to pull it apart carefully so that after his meal he could make sketches on it. He told me he liked the texture of brown paper.
He continued to draw between odd jobs including designing record labels for Jazz records but spent more and more time sculpting. In 1986 he was working on a major exhibition entitled South African Exile that was to include 200 drawings ranging in size from 10 x 18 inches to 9 x 30 feet, as well as 150 sculptures. South African Justice Albie Sachs followed Dumile's career since first meeting him in London, and was very fond of the artist's 'deep romanticism.' "It was all in the form, the shape, and the delicacy of representation that made me feel that he was not exploiting hardship, not exploiting nudity and not exploiting Africanness to make a point. He is saying something about humanity, the humanity that he knows: an African humanity. It was the sort of thing in the face of which I wanted to weep and to smile at the same time." While looking for jazz albums at Tower Records in New York, Dumile suffered a fatal heart attack. He died in 1991.
1963, Municipal Art Gallery, Johannesburg , Curator. Mme. Z. Wiznicka-Klecyzynska
1964, Exhibition of Charcoal drawings and terra cotta sculptures, Transvaal Academy
1965, Republican Arts Festival, Johannesburg
1966, Gallery 101, Johannesburg
1966, Transvaal Academy, Johannesburg Art Gallery
1966, 'Artists of Fame and Promise', Adler Fielding Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa
1966, South African Brewery Competition, awarded a prize for the work 'Mother and Child'
1966, Trans-Natal Group show, Natal Society of Art Gallery, Durban
1966, Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria
1966, Johannesburg Civic Theatre
1967, Gallery 101, Jonhannesburg
1967, Transvaal Academy, Johannesburg
1967, South African pavilion, Expo 67, Montreal, Canada
1967, São Paulo Art Biennial, Brazil
1967, 'Sculpture South Africa, 1900: 1967', Adler Fielding Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa
1968, Grosvenor Gallery, London
1968, Sketches from a Private Collection, Goodman Gallery, South Africa
1969, 'Contemporary African Art', Camden Arts Centre, London, United Kingdom
1969, Grosvenor Gallery, London
1970, Exhibition from the Collection of Desmond Fisher, Goodman Gallery
1970, The 51 Club Winter Art Exhibition, Goodman Gallery
1970, 'Contemporary African Art', Dublin, Ireland
1971, Gallery 101, Johannesburg
1972, Gallery 101, Johannesburg
1975, 'South African Sculpture', Goodman Gallery
1975, 'African Art from South Africa', Gallery 21, London, UK
1977, 'Contemporary African Art in South Africa', Rand Afrikaans University, Pretoria Art Museum, University of Orange Free State, William Hamphrey Art Gallery (University of Fort Hare)
1977, SANG (Cape Town Festival), Gallery 21, South Africa
1981, 'Black Art Today', Jabulani Standard Bank, Soweto
1982, 'Art towards Social Development: an Exhibition of South African Art', National Museum and Art Gallery, Gaborone, Botswana
1983, United Nations Exhibition, Commemoration of Namibia Freedom Day, New York, USA
1988, 'Uhuru: an Exhibition of African American Art against Apartheid', City without Wall Gallery, Newark, USA
1988, 'Voices from Exile, Seven South African Artists', Washington, DC; Los Angeles, CA; Houston, TX; Philadelphia, PA, USA
1988, La Galleria, New York, USA
1990, 'Township Art from South Africa', Applecrest, New York, USA
1995 - 1996, exhibited 'African Guernica', a 1970 charcoal from the University of Fort Hare, Munich, Chicago, New York
2001, exhibited 'The Railway Accident', National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
2002, 'The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994', MOMA, New York, USA