A few words to paint a picture of Suze Duby, as part of the process of remembering, reflecting, grieving and honouring… A portrait of an artist, a woman, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a lover, a wife, a human.
— co-written by various Dubys
Suzette Thelma Duby was born in Pretoria on 29 August 1949 to Georges and Molly Duby. As a child she spent some years in what was then Nyasaland (now Malawi). The bright exuberance of the local markets there filled her childhood with colour.
Returning to South Africa she attended Pretoria Girls High School where she excelled at Art and French and matriculated in 1966. She took up a position with PACT (the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal), where she designed posters and programme covers for a broad range of performances.
Encouraged by her artist father Georges, she moved to Paris In the early 1970s where for several years she studied graphic arts and illustration at the Ecole des Metiers d’Art.
On her return from France in the late 1970s she worked both independently and in art studios in Johannesburg. During this period she started painting, under the guidance of Armando Baldinelli, Ruth Levy and her cousin Patrick Rorke. A series of her paintings based on Tarot card illustrations was exhibited in Durban in 1987.
For Suzette there was, from her art, an internal journey of healing, part of the process of coming to terms with the bi-polar depressive disorder she suffered from; as she, herself put it:
“Art can express things that cannot be put into words, and it makes life richer”
Suze, as she was known among her family and eclectic circle of friends, kept contact with the theatrical world, and designed a number of the posters and other publicity material for the newly established Market Theatre, the only place where (the controversial) Athol Fugard plays could be shown at the time. She moved to Cape Town at the turn of the millennium and taught graphic design at a tertiary education college.
In 2003, Suze moved to Dubai with her husband, Edward Cooper. The years in Dubai were among her happiest and she wrote of that time:
“I was entranced by the colours, textures and searing heat of the desert and all the customs; architecture; traditions and Islamic art; especially calligraphy which was new to me and tremendously inspiring”
While in Dubai, she painted prolifically in oil paints. Her paintings from this period were shown at the Original & Unique Gallery in Al Safa. During this time she also taught art to all age groups at the Dutac Arts Centre.
Edward and Suze returned to Cape Town in 2008, moving to Muizenberg and Suze took a position teaching art at the Tamboerskloof Primary School and, to private students she taught watercolour, drawing and graphic design.
Locally, Suze was a regular exhibitor at the Kalk Bay bookshop. She also held a one-woman show at the Masque Theatre in Muizenberg about which a critic wrote: “Above all, Suze was an artist with that unique ability to ‘observe. She views everything as if she has just seen it for the first time”. This is what she is able to transfer to her students.
“The world is an extraordinary place, suffused with colour and stretching to the edge of language”
Every year, Suzette created beautiful paintings depicting scenes from around the Cape Peninsula for compilation into calendars for the Saint Francis Outreach Trust, who run two foster homes for orphaned, abandoned and HIV positive children in Masiphumelele. She also ran community art classes for local children as part of the Muizenberg Festival.
In addition to her love of art, Suze was passionate about the natural environment, was a keen gardener, and took great interest in local flora. She combined her art and botany interests in a series of delicate and detailed illustrations on Cape Peninsula fynbos.
Suze expressed a profound dismay for the current state of the world’s environment, humankind’s mistreatment of the planet, global warming, and pollution. She was an empassioned participant in the Extinction Rebellion protests in 2019.
“When I see great beauty or an inspiring atmosphere I simply want to capture it to show the powerful reaction it has caused in me. This goes for things I see as unjust as well but I want to do something in that case not simply paint a picture”
Bedevilled by her lifelong battle with bi-polar clinical depression, heightened by her dismay about the current state of the planet and humanity, and exacerbated by the difficulties and uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, Suze took her own life in September 2020.
A poignant statement she made on social media captures the way in which Suze was deeply affected by the world’s problems:
“There are positive things in the world and good people but sometimes I just get overwhelmed.”
Suzette was cremated and her ashes dispersed in the Silvermine River wetlands in Clovelly. Her family plan to plant an indigenous tree in her memory in the public land around Zandvlei Nature Reserve.
Suzette leaves behind many friends and family who will always remember her as a bright, hugely talented, warm and generous spirit.