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KILLER WHALE NEEDS HOME (article first published : 2003-01-4)

A beaded banner depicting a killer whale created by the art students of the Ningizimu School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped is currently on display at the NSA Galleries until January 10, after which it needs a new home.

Robin Opperman, head of Department of Art and Technology at the Ningizimu recalls how the killer whale was first created: “One of my pupils came to me with a picture from an old calendar that we had, showing a killer whale jumping out the water,” he said. “He wanted to know what it was and why it was doing that? Up to this point we had made many banners, and each of these was becoming more and more three-dimensional. Given the exceptional sewing skills that we had, I decided to approach Joyce Gumede (the Class Aid) and ask her what the possibilities were for us to make a banner with a killerwhale as the centrepiece.

“I had the idea that we could make the killer whale separately, and then adhere it to the banner later once the pupils had completed the beadwork surrounding it. This would allow the maximum number of pupils to be involved on this piece of work at once. Our philosophy with the banners is to find something for everyone to do, so that no matter what their level of skill is, everyone can feel involved in the making of the banner, and a part of its completion and success.”

As is always the case at Ningizimu, certain pupils become leaders and supervise other pupils as well as doing a large part of work they enjoy doing. Noxolo Nomvete, the chief sewing pupil, became the key figure in the creation of the banner, hand sewing beads which were later secured with a coating of glue.

“I used my own resources to purchase the materials and pay the pupils, as I also want the pupils to make the connection between their work and the money that they earn from it,” explains Robin. “The banner is then for sale, and serves as a powerful reminder of the potentials and skills that the pupils possess. We are hoping to sell the piece, and that someone will have as much joy from this work as we have had in making it and exhibiting it in our classroom. If we are able to sell it, the money will be used to buy new materials and to pay the students for our following project. Luckily we have many skills available to us, and a Principal who allows us to experiment and dream.”

Also available is a large basket made with scrap plastic donated by ongoing supporters of Ningizimu, (DLC) Diverse Labelling Consultants. Adapting the traditional Zulu grass mat and basket design to this new material, Joyce Gumede has developed a style of attractive and durable plastic pots and baskets and now trains Ningizimu pupils in this technique, producing almost two metre high baskets. These are sold to purchase more materials for the Art Programme, which has no budget of its own.

Contact Robin Opperman on 082 661 3720.




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