Born Izak Benjamin de Villiers in 1951, the artist grew up in Pretoria, a member of a typical middle-class Afrikaner family. His father was a senior government official. Zak was sent to Sunday school and Volksspele, belonged to the Voortrekker movement and signed up as a member of the Nationalist Party Youth Movement.
The discrepancies between the Christian values taught at church and the policies of the Nationalist government, and their expression in the status-seeking materialist Afrikaner middle class made him rebel against his background, and drop out of university where he was studying Building Management.
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After doing various jobs (clerk in a municipal office, railway stoker, fitter on a construction site) and living in Europe for a year, he returned to University and completed a BA Fine Arts degree. In his final year, he won the New Signatures Award for Graphics. Benjamin taught art from time to time, privately and at various institutions. Since 1991 he has been able to work as an artist full-time. His work is represented in several collections.
In the mid-nineteen-eighties, Benjamin experienced a profound religious conversion that led to his friendship with sculptor Gert Swart. Together they struggle to discover what it means to make contemporary art as Christians, and have collaborated in various projects.
Since 1992 the artist has signed his work Zak Benjamin, a shortened version of his full name.
Zak makes use of a very personal iconography in his characteristic fantasy paintings. Throughout his career, he has also made works that comment upon the social fabric of our time. In these he uses images culled from everyday life. His frustration with lingering Apartheid in the Dutch Reformed Church and the challenges facing Christians in post-Apartheid South Africa provide themes for some of his work.
During the early 1990s, Zak experienced an increasing awkwardness when using his right hand. The diagnosis was Parkinson's Syndrome. As the disease progresses, he finds it more and more difficult to produce work. At present, he is able to work for a limited time some days, and most days not at all. In January 2008 Zak had an operation to implant a deep-brain stimulator, a device that gave him back some of his ability to function normally. His Parkinson's is not cured, however, but the respite has enabled him to continue working, albeit at a slow pace.
The artist married his wife Erna Buber-deVilliers in 1988. They live in Vereeniging, South Africa. They have two daughters, two granddaughters and a grandson.