Ground-breaking craft

2011-07-28 00:00

OPENING at the Tatham Art Gallery today is a ground-breaking new ­exhibition — Meeting the Makers: Contemporary Craft of Kwa­­­Zulu- ­Natal — which aims to promote crafters from the province who are producing high-quality, sustainable objects that bridge the divide between traditional craft and so-called ‘high art’.

The gallery in Chief Albert Luthuli (Commercial) Street, Pietermaritzburg, was asked to curate the exhibition by the National Arts Council.

“They initially wanted us to do the whole country, but I said ‘no’ and that we could only manage KwaZulu­Natal,” Brendan Bell, director of the gallery said. “They agreed, and gave us a generous budget and free rein, which meant we were able to put together a good-quality exhibition and publication to accompany it.”

Visitors to the gallery will be able to view the collection, which includes traditional Zulu ­ceramics made by Buzephi, Khonzeni and Ntombifuthi Magwaza; ­contemporary lighting designs by Umcebo Trust and Egg Designs; beautiful basketry; embroidery produced by crafters from the Ingwavuma ­region; woodturned bowls by Andrew Early from the Dargle; furniture from Koop Design; paper flowers from the award-winning Shaw Sisters; beautiful beadwork from members of the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust’s Woza Moya project; stunning jewellery by Eunice Cele; wire work; and much more.

To collect the works on show, the Tatham staff embarked on a series of field trips, which saw them travel the length and breadth of the province. “We did eight major trips to all parts of KwaZulu-Natal — north, south, east and west. There were also lots of day trips in between to areas nearby, which we could manage to cover in a day,” Bell said.

“We wanted to meet the crafters, and to see the places where they work. We interviewed them about their work, took photos of the craft and where it was made, and slowly, we started to get an understanding of the lives of the people, and how they market and sell their work.

“For example, in the Tugela Valley, where the Magwaza family live, these women are the main breadwinners, and they keep their homesteads going by making pots, some of which are huge. They end up having to hire taxis just to be able to carry their work to markets. It can cost around R3 000 for a return trip to markets in places like Durban. It’s not an easy life.”

Bell added that whenever the staff felt there were suitable, good-quality crafts they could buy, they did so.

The works were selected on the basis that they were ­exceptionally well made, were aesthetically pleasing, and looked like they had been made in the 21st century. “In the end, we had far too much for the exhibition, but I think we helped inject a lot of money into the craft industry in the last year,” Bell said.

To help them whittle the number down to the 160 pieces on display, they brought in Sue Greenberg from the ­Artisan Contemporary Gallery in Florida Road, Durban. “She was quite ruthless. We all had our favourites and she threw them out, one by one,” Kobie Venter, one of the Tatham education officers said.

Accompanying the exhibition is the book, Meeting the Makers: Contemporary Craft of KwaZulu-Natal, which has been divided into different categories.

Venter, who did write-ups on each of the crafters, said: “We wanted these to offer the reader an idea of what the crafters were like, where they lived and how they made the work. The idea of both the exhibition and the book is to take people on a journey.”

The book can be ordered this evening, and if paid for at the opening, will be available for the special price of R100. The usual cost is R120.

It’s a journey which reveals in beautiful detail, the ­richness and variety of contemporary craft being made in KwaZulu-Natal.

• Meeting the Makers: Contemporary Craft in KZN opens at ­the ­Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg, today and runs until September 18.

Inquiries: 033 392 2801.

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