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CRAFT ART IN SOUTH AFRICA (article first published : 2002-12-25)

The book is compiled and written by Dr Elbé Coetsee who established the Mogalakwena Craft Art Development Foundation at the end of 1994 to support the economic and social upliftment of the Pedi community. She completed a PhD at the University of Pretoria, researching the demographic characteristics and entrepreneurial attitudes of South African craft artists. This research saw her attending all major craft festivals and markets throughout South Africa over a four year period, during which time she acquired a sound knowledge and understanding of the craft art industry.

Through the use of magnificent photographs styled by Liane Visser and taken by Ryno, she shares her obvious love and respect of her subject. She has grouped the objects per chapter according to the materials used, such as baskets; beads; ceramics; embroidery; glass; wirework; paper; quilts and metalwork.

Craft of this standard is to be taken seriously as most of the artists featured in this book are much sought-after on an international level. For many South Africans, particularly those from previously disadvantaged communities, craftwork allows them to earn a living and places them squarely in the forefront of the top quality craft industry.

Of particular interest is the chapter on Recycling. South Africa produces 15 million tons per annum of solid urban waste, mainly glass, paper, plastics and metal - most of which can be recycled creatively. This chapter celebrates Donald Kubjana’s dazzling Christmas trees from recycled cool drink cans and the flamboyant candles from the Bredasdorp area which have graced the tables of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

Craft Art in South Africa reveals the kind of energy that is recognised by major corporations who have supported and funded the work and development of (often illiterate) artists who by instinct produce work that have an age-old history such as wirework which goes back to the Minoans of 2000 BC. One artist who particularly captured my complete attention is Edward Zwane with his excellent sculptured indigenous South African birds. I have dropped many loud hints to my family that I would welcome one as a gift!

Unique to South Africa, the medium of telephone wire craft such as those seen regularly at the BAT Centre, is considered traceable to the handiwork of young herd boys in the rural KZN areas. Modern day scientists and mathematicians are often baffled by the astonishing ability of today’s artists such as Durban’s internationally renowned Elliot Mkhize and Ntombifuthi Magwaza to produce highly complex geometric designs.

KZN artists featured are fabric artist Jutta Faulds, quilter Leonie Malherbe, ceramic artist Juliet Armstrong, potters Ian Garrett, Clive Sithole and Nesta Nala as well as Ardmore Studio and John and Andrew Early (The Woodturner), in the Midlands.

Also represented are Sibusiso Maphumulo, Timothy and Thembu Mlambo, Michael Mpungose, Bheki Myeni and Julius Mfethe; the BAT Shop’s traditional beaded sculpture and beaded dolls and well as Mdukatshani Beadworkers whose exquisite beaded egg decorations are gracing Christmas trees worldwide at this time of the year. Jane Bedford’s Abacus Zulu beadwork has appeared on many of the catwalks of the international fashion scene.

Elbé Coetsee describes Craft Art in South Africa as “a tribute to craft artists at the cutting edge of the cultural revival in South Africa and a celebration of their work.” In hard cover and retailing at R250 it is a must for craft art collectors and academics as well as for those who revel in South African creative energy. (Review by Cherry MacIldowie)




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