KZN's rich treasures

2009-10-22 00:00

IF you, like me, consider African crafts to be works of art, then you ­simply cannot miss an exhibition which opens at Pietermaritzburg’s Brookby Centre this weekend. Handcrafted baskets, rugs, tapestries, ­ceramics and fabrics will be on show at the centre at 98 Morcom Road, Prestbury, from October 24 to November 8 (10 am to 4 pm).

The items have been created by craftsmen and women at the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) ­Centre at Rorke’s Drift, the Vukani Zulu Cultural Museum in Eshowe and by people involved with local projects.

Among those producing work for the Vukani Museum at Fort Nonquai, is Angeline Masuku from the village of Empembeni. She won the 2007 FNB Vita Award for Craft, has exhibited in One of a Kind and has had exhibitions in Santa Fe and New York.

Her innovative designs are taken from her surroundings and include images of farm animals and homesteads, as well as geometric patterns.

Curator for the museum (which is under the stewardship of the Vukani Collection Trust), Vivienne Garside, said the high standard achieved by Masuku and her family was because they started training as basket weavers at a very young age — sometimes as young as four.

Another talented weaver is Vina Ndwandwe, also from the village of Empembeni, who is distantly related to the late master weaver, Reuben ­Ndwandwe from the Hlabisa area, with whom she trained. She prefers to weave very large baskets and usually includes a cross in her designs.

Visitors to the centre will also be able to see works by Beauty Ngxongo, Zanele Mbatha, Celiwe Mbatha, Phindile Ntshangase, Sibongile Buthelezi, Nomusa Masuku and ­Norah Masuku.

Crafters from the ELC Centre at Rorke’s Drift will be showcasing their range of rugs, tapestries, ceramics and fabrics at the exhibition. Among the artists working at the centre is Gordon Mbatha, who trained as a thrower in 1968 and decorates his ­cylindrical pots with figures and animals drawn from Zulu stories.

Established in 1962 by Swedish ­artists Ulla and Peder Gowenius, who were employed by the Church of Swedish Mission, at the LEC Centre at Rorke’s Drift has been home to artists such as John Muafangejo, Azaria Mbatha, Bongi Dlomo, Pat Mautla, weavers Philda Majozi and Emma Dammann, and ­ceramists Gordon Mbatha, Joel Sibisi and Elisabeth Mbatha.

The exhibition will be officially opened at 11 am on Saturday and Jannie van Heerden, author of the book Zulu Basketry, will be on hand to talk about and sign copies of his book.

Van Heerden is the chief education specialist — visual arts and design at the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and his book is a definitive guide to contemporary basket weaving from the Hlabisa area of KZN, where some of the best work is produced, and deals comprehensively with weavers as artists, tracing their creative development over a 15-year period.

The book, published by Print ­Matters, also offers readers a comprehensive historical overview of basket weaving; discusses techniques, materials and basketry ­methods in detail; and offers tips on what buyers should look out for.

In his introduction, Van Heerden thanks the weavers for opening his eyes to the “rich treasures to be found in indigenous culture”, adding: “I grew up as a typical white person of the apartheid era and never looked at indigenous art and culture. It was only when I was forced to do so, because of my work, that my eyes were opened.”


• For information about the Brookby exhibition phone Nok­thula at 073 266 6248 or Deanne at 033 344 3094.

• Phone the Vukani Museum at 035 474 5274 or ­e-mail vukanimus

• Phone the ELC Centre at Rorke’s Drift at 034 642 1627 or e-mail info@centre-rorkesdrift. com or visit

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