national Arts Festival Banner

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


(Peter Engblom)

Well-known Durban artist Peter Engblom – acknowledged as a truly unique creative - died at the age of 63 from suspected heart complications at his home in Eshowe in northern KwaZulu-Natal on September 11, 2020.

He studied at the Bavarian State Institute in Munich, Germany, and the Durban University of Technology. A well-known figure on the artistic scene for his provocative exhibits, he merged Zulu, Japanese and Indian elements in his work. He was noted for his seemingly never-ending flow of stimulating and fascinating ideas.

Carol Brown, director of CurateASpace and former director of the Durban Art Gallery pays this tribute:

“So sad to hear Peter Engblom is no more. He was one of a kind - a truly unique creative. He was one of our most talented artists who saw the world differently. He will be missed but his work will live on in the museum world as well as his architectural collaborations and his whacky artworks and books. Long live Zulu Sushi.

Peter would have appreciated the fact that he left the world in its most chaotic time. He is probably telling Mpunzi Shezi of the absurdity of the world’s pandemic times with its crazy masks and distancing and fear of the unknown.  During his lifetime, he created a parallel universe where the impossible was the norm and society’s taboos and accepted ways of life became fodder for his crazy art which knew no boundaries.

His life was itself a performance where he moved through continents, dwelling spaces, artistic experiments - always gleaning fabrics, crazy objects, new stories, recipes, photographs – endless inspiration for his wacky creations.

But Peter’s artistic creativity was greater. He designed the first digital touch screens for Durban’s Local History Museums long before it was the trend, he transformed the historic George Hotel in Eshowe into a destination which intrigued, amused and often puzzled its visitors. He was up for any challenge and when the Durban Art Gallery commissioned him to give the Ladies Toilet facilities a facelift, he turned it into a history of the W.C. which became the talk of the town.

He designed the winning presentation for Durban’s bid to host the International Architectural Congress which he presented in Seoul in 2017 and we co-curated the retrospective exhibition of the work of Rodney Harber held at DAG in 2014.

One of his more recent projects - and possibly his last project - was a Museum within the museum of Durban’s Phansi Museum where he assembled historic newspaper cuttings, reconfigured photos, objects dug out from ancient archives (many made by himself) and all the while living in what was the cow shed at the museum where I had a preview and sampled his culinary talents with the best Vindaloo ever.

He had a wide repertoire but probably his major work and legacy will be the Zulu Sushi book where we are introduced to the fictional character of Mpunzi Shezi who met his first artistic muse, Naokichi Nakamura a hundred years ago and went on to become the first Zulu Guru teaching Ubuntu to the Buddhists while explaining Zen to the Zulus. Fact or Fiction?

He has been quoted (by New York gallerist Gary Van Wyk) as saying that his "Zulu Sushi" series is about how dangerous belief is. It is also a funhouse mirror that cleverly reflects back at us the distortions of ethnographic thinking and stereotypes about the Other. It is a vital message, and eternal.

Engblom called his practice “'stand-up anthropology”—like stand-up comedy, a mode of joke. "This is about the whole idea of belief—the moment you believe something, you stop thinking about it. When you stop thinking about it, it's got you. Politicians have used that trick forever, religions have used it forever.”'

Aaah, Peter - you will be missed – your talent, brilliant and original mind, generosity of spirit have given us all joy and inspiration.  You were a “One Off”. Enjoy your new universe and keep the flag flying.” -Carol Brown


This tribute comes from radio and television presenter, Terence Pillay:

“I was so saddened to hear of the passing away of my friend and the artistic genius that was Peter Engblom. Peter broke barriers, challenged stereotypes and was a general bad-ass in the art world, not just in Durban, but the country over.

I first met Peter over twenty years ago at an art exhibition. We struck up a conversation and ended up chatting for most of the night. He had such a unique take on life and everything else. We remained friends over the years and every so often I would receive a package from him that contained his now-iconic fashion / art badges, which has for over twenty years been part of my signature style. In fact, one such package just arrived a few weeks ago!

He was a visionary and his art was probably as creatively abstract as what went on in his mind. I loved that. And he refused to kowtow to mainstream media. I remember him telling me about a very popular talk-show host that contacted him to feature his Zulu-Sushi exhibition on her show and he declined because he didn’t want to commercialize his vision.

Peter will be sorely missed by all those who came into contact with him. I am very sad at this loss. If ever the phrase “gone to soon” was applicable, it’s here and now. Rest in Power Peter!” - Terence Pillay

 A memorial get-together will be held at The George Hotel in Eshowe on September 18, 2020, at 14h00. Snacks will be provided and there will be a cash bar.