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ARTS AND CRAFTS (article first published : 2003-11-10)

Arts and Crafts is part of the African Heritage series published by Struik. In the same series are Ceremonies, Dress and Adornment and Homesteads.

The publications feature photographs by internationally acclaimed photographer Peter Magubane with text by Professor Sandra Klopper. Major focus is made on imagery and the text is presented in English, French and German in each volume.

From its evocative front cover which portrays Ndebele muralist Francina Ndimande quietly at work on a beerstrainer to the back coverís clay sculpture by Venda artist Noria Mabasa, the photographs are spontaneous and unstaged, capturing the heart of creative people displaying their skills and artefacts.

The book deals with craft forms made from indigenous materials such as clay, wood and grass. Some are decorative, some functional, others are part of traditional rituals or ceremonies. Then thereís body painting or mural art forms, including a photograph of acclaimed and internationally famous Ndebele muralist Esther Mahlangu.

All are carefully and attractively captured by Peter Magubane. The book also touches on the contemporary use of brass and copper wire as well as recycled objects such as the tops of Coca Cola bottles.

There are many appealing images. Two men sit outside a highly decorated house, one is playing the accordion and the other has a makeshift drum created from a large paint tin. At a Bakopa weddng, a guest proudly displayed one of the presents which is a walking stick topped by the handle of a saw. A peaceful rural village setting sees an elderly man in a Basutho-styled hat clad in green overalls and covered with a skin weaving a massive grass basket. An elegant Ndebele woman in beaded vinyl cap, heavy studded necklace and silver neck rings sporting chic silver dark glasses could be from a futuristic sci-fi movie.

Much is being done by government and private funding, both in South Africa and overseas, to ensure that craftspeople are able to become self-sustainable and that the skills usually transferred from parents to children are entrenched in formalised training centres and not lost to future generations.

While it is understood that the book is not a craft manual but an informative publication created for the tourism market, the text glosses over information which I believe is important. An example is that while the Nala family is acknowledged, the figure in the picture is not identified as Nesta and the well-known creators of the Hlabisa baskets are similarly unidentified. I would have preferred a glossary at the end of the book offering more details for those who wished to be more fully informed.

With many people expecting overseas family and friends to stay for Christmas, this handy soft-cover publication would make a delightful and easy-to-pack gift for them to take back home. At R119.95 (R395 for the box set) itís published by Struik and available in leading booksellers. Ė Caroline Smart




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