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IMBENGE DREAMHOUSE (article first published : 2005-03-4)

German artist Nele Ströbel was introduced to modern Zulu woven art made from telephone wire, when she travelled through southern Africa a few years ago. Once back in Germany, she discovered that the Telegraph Office of the Royal Residence in Munich was to be disbanded and many tons of this beautiful wire was to be discarded. And so the idea developed to use this wire from the historical centre of communication in Munich to build a house of communication - a space for dialogue between the cultures, with African and Western artists.

She applied to use the wire and managed to get funding to build the imbenge dreamhouse. And where? Right here in Greyville in the heart of Durban – at the premises of the Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism. This modern rondavel consists of 12 segments, 1m wide and 2m high, that are interlocked aluminium frames.

Strobel selected 12 artists and provided them with 80 kg of telephone wire, or more if needed. Each artist was free to design his/her own frame and could choose covering, weaving, or soldering as their technique.

Six South African artists were selected from different provinces, as well as six artists who now live in Germany but came from many corners of the world. Language could have been a problem, but somehow by working in the same environment it all came together,

The artists were accommodated at the Holiday Inn for two weeks together with project co-ordinator Cornelia Weiblen-Albrecht and film maker Stefanie Sycholt

Sycholt, who was educated at the University of Natal, married a German and completed her film studies in Germany. She alternates living for six months in South Africa and the other six in Germany and has a good understanding of the different cultures. Therefore she was put in charge of documenting the entire process on film and on DVD where each artist explains what his/her panel is about. A catalogue will also be produced outlining all the work processes.

The 12 participants working on the dream house have become a large family with mutual respect and understanding for each others cultures. The panels in the dream house are testimony to their artistic background, they are extremely original and inspiring.

Two New York artists used cables which originated from the Brooklyn Bridge and tied large knots. Pipon, the French artist, incorporated lights. The six South African artists used intricate patterning, made masks and created recognisable symbols in a fantastic array of psychedelic colours.

Nele Ströbel, originator of the concept, created the digital design for the canvas roof. The motifs, lettering and graphic designs were inspired by the various locations at which the imbenge dreamhouse will be exhibited.

The project was started in Germany where all 12 artists worked for a period of two weeks and artists with their panels were flown to Durban for another two week period to complete the project here. The team consisted of Nele Ströbel, Cornelia Weiblen-Albreacht, Julia Venske, Gregor Spanie, Stefanie Sycholt, Pipon and from South Africa Enoch Ngwenya, Alfred Radebe, Mandla Sibiloane (KZN), Hector Sentini, Riaan Booysen and Steve Theko.

The dream house was shipped back to Germany and will be exhibited in the German Foreign Ministry, the Bavarian Ministry of Science and Arts as well as in the Museum of Ethnology in Nuremburg and at the new South African Embassy in Berlin.




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