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AFRICAN RENAISSANCE (article first published : 2003-01-6)

Based in Johannesburg, the multi-award winning and internationally acclaimed Peter Magubane is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s finest photographers. In the superbly produced African Renaissance published two years ago, he presents recent images of communities across South Africa, paying tribute to the lives of rural traditionalists who continue to honour practices now all but lost in most urban centres. Extending this process to the new and vibrant relationship between past and present practices, he draws attention to the hybrid styles of dress and adornment adopted by contemporary traditionalists.

The informative text is by Dr Sandra Klopper who lectures in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town. Her grasp of contemporary culture was evident in two widely acclaimed exhibitions of hiphop spraycan art in 1999. Designer of the book is Janice Evans who has created a beautiful embossed cloth hardcover. This can be seen once you remove the glossy loose cover which has an arresting image of a young Pedi girl on the front and a fascinating picture of South Sotho body adornment on the back.

African Renaissance is sponsored by Amplats who dedicate the book to their employees and chapters are divided into Dress & Adornment, Rites of Passage; Art & Crafts and Homesteads.

“Seldom has a single person’s talent straddled the defining epochs of our country’s history …” says Deputy President Jacob Zuma in the foreword. “Mr Magubane has, in this book, carved a way in which South Africans can enter the new millennium without forgetting who they are, where they come from and what their potential is.”

The 168 page book with its 160 full colour photographs documents such contemporary strides as the official recognition afforded indigenous healers and diviners by the Department of Health; the inclusion in King Zwelethini’s Zulu Reed Ceremony of white and Indian young girls, and traditional Zulu beaded items now carrying the image of the new South African flag.

Peter Magubane’s images are truly stunning. One remembers, particularly, a proud married Ndebele woman in full ceremonial regalia plus a modern styled male hat; a smiling Zulu woman with a traditional hat in IFP colours; a Swazi man with leopard skin headband and beaded necklace with the letters SD (the registration for Swaziland cars), and an Ndebele woman in traditional blanket, neckring and beads wearing an adorned military type peak cap and sunglasses.

A Bantwane woman leads a joyous dance with Christmas tinsel decorations woven into her many necklaces; three pairs of legs dwarfed by Ndebele bulbous legrings end in contemporary trainers, and wedding gifts at traditional KZN weddings include kists decorated with Christian icons.

Two of the most memorable photographs feature young married Ndebele women with permanent neck rings where Peter Magubane has captured the available light superbly.

Published by Struik and retailing at a very reasonable R220, considering the high quality of the book, African Renaissance is a must for anyone wishing to own a magnificent visual record of the many and varied traditional and contemporary cultures of South Africa. – Caroline Smart




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