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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

DRESS AND ADORNMENT (article first published : 2004-01-4)

Published by New Holland, Dress and Adornment by acclaimed photographer Peter Magubane is part of a series that includes Arts and Crafts, Homesteads and Ceremonies. With text by Professor Sandra Klopper, the handy-sized softcover publication looks at a wide range of southern African peoples whose clothing combines traditional and Western elements. The cover depicts the vigorous energy of Bantwane novice diviners at their coming-out ceremony. With their beaded skirts swinging and bead necklaces swaying, one can almost hear the jiggling of their massive pod anklets.

The advance publicity explains that “the way that people dress and adorn themselves may simply be following the dictates of fashion but it is frequently a means of giving expression to particular social, political or religious values.”

Head-dresses play an important part in traditional dress – indicating a woman’s martial status or her respect for her husband or parents-in-law. Bantwane women’s decorated head-dressses underline their importance as potential or actual mothers. Leopard skins are now rare as well as expensive so those wishing to signify their social status now make garments from cotton cloth printed with leopard markings.

There is very little text and I would have liked it to have been more explanatory. However, this does leave Peter Magubane’s evocative photographs to tell the story.

Memorable images include a serene Bakopa married woman; an elegant woman whose long neck is encircled with brass rings; a pensive Xhosa woman with a massive headscarf puffing quietly on her pipe and a young Zulu woman from the lower Drakensberg region dancing amid the whirling strings of her beads.

Other fine photographs depict gnarled old hands with metal bangles; the magnificent head-dresses worn by the Zulu women from the Tugela Ferry area; and a delightful skirt adorned with beads, bangles, combs and mirrors with the added adornment of Chomp and Lunch Bar wrappers.

With text in English, French and German, Dress and Adornment retails at R119.95 and makes a perfect keepsake for tourists to southern Africa. Attractive box sets of the full series are available at R395 and would be invaluable for researchers. Contact 021 462 4360. – Caroline Smart




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