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WIRED (article first published : 2005-09-4)

In the early 1960’s, it was a familiar sight around Durban to see a night watchman whiling away the dark hours weaving coloured telephone wire in attractive patterns around a knobkerrie (stick used as a weapon). Earlier used in Zulu culture in the beer pot lid (imbenge), this activity gradually extended to bottles, baskets and bowls and eventually found its way into wire sculpture. Apart from becoming “must-have” décor items, telephone wire pieces quickly became a hit with tourists as they are unique, decorative and small enough to put in a suitcase. Although not exactly light in weight, they are always acceptable gifts in the home of any culture, style or fashion.

The designs of baskets expanded from a simple spiral of colours to fascinating and intricate motifs and eventually figures. Basket designs now often carry slogans or social messages – some even tell stores.

Wired: Contemporary Zulu Telephone Wire Baskets is a splendid publication written by David Arment and Marisa Fick-Jordaan dealing with this craft skill which takes its origins back to the Cross River region of Nigeria from the 16th to 18th centuries when wire was used as a valuable trade item. Archaeological sites both in Nigeria and Southern Africa have shown wire to have a strong connection to burials and the Zulu culture sees finely woven wire used in ornaments and objects associated with power.

Wired has interesting beginnings. David Arment’s first exposure to telephone wire baskets was a photograph in a tourism brochure in the early 1990’s. He started collecting them on his annual trips to South Africa from the USA and his passion grew as he explored the craft. At the same time, Marisa Fick-Jordaan of the BAT Shop at the BAT Centre was working with the weavers of Siyanda in Zululand to turn this rural craft into a self-sustainable art form. The BAT Shop now supplies telephone wire baskets to art shops around the world. It was fashion designer Marianne Fassler who brought the two together and the superbly-produced Wired. – apparently plotted over a dinner of whisky prawns - is the result of this pro-active working partnership.

Published by S/C Editions, Santa Fe, and distributed in South Africa by David Krut Publishing, Wired showcases the works of renowned master basket and plate weavers Bheki Dlamini, Elliot Mkhize and Alfred Ntuli with their contemporaries Dudu Cele, Alice Gcaba, Ntombifuthi Magwasa, Robert Majola and Zodwa Maphumulo, alongside pieces by Zama Khanyile, Mboniseni Khanyile, Simon Mavundla, Jaheni Mkhize, Bheki Sibiya and Vincent Sithole. Each crafter has a dedicated page which portrays their work.

Page after page reveals these stunning designs beautifully photographed by Andrew Cerino and the book’s design allows wide surrounding space to each and every item, from decorated bottles and sticks to large bowls, so that they can be appreciated without being crowded by other images. Full colour plates give examples of how the wire pieces look in different home situations.

The book warns that collecting the wire plates can become addictive and some collectors are very passionate about them, citing their design features with enthusiasm. But what nicer addiction could there possibly be? So start yours now - buy Wired as a comprehensive catalogue guide and head for your next wire basket outlet!

Wired: Contemporary Zulu Telephone Wire Baskets is published by S/C Editions, Santa Fe, and distributed in South Africa by David Krut Publishing, The book retails at R350 and is a must for museums, craft collectors, educators and anyone whose spirit is lifted by superb and innovative craft work. – Caroline Smart




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