The Art of Weaving

2009-02-24 00:00

AN exhibition showcasing the work of the late Reuben Ndwandwe opens at the Voortrekker/Msunduzi Museum in Pietermaritzburg on February 27.

Curated by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Museum Service, the display has been exhibited at a number of venues in the province including Pietermaritzburg’s Tatham Art Gallery in September 2007, the Durban Art Gallery and at the KwaZulu Cultural Museum in Ulundi.

The Ilala palm fronds used for Ndwandwe’s baskets and mbenges came from the coastal plain around Mbazwana in northern Zululand. They were harvested and brought 150 kilometres to the Mona market just north of Nongoma, about 50 kilometres from the artist’s home.

Ndwandwe would dye the fronds with materials, that included leaves and berries, sourced from the area where he lived. The fronds would then be split and trimmed into strips of equal width strips for weaving.

Commenting on Ndwandwe’s work, Gilbert Torlage, of the KZN Provincial Museum Service said: “When we visited Reuben to see him demonstrate the making of a basket I was staggered at just how painstaking the process is. Once he had begun the initial knot and coil made of Ilala palm frond, he began to add specific grasses to the coil.

“It was the individual stitching that surprised us. It was so slow and painstaking. The baskets and mbenges represent thousands upon thousands of stitches.”

Ndwandwe, who remained humble in spite of his success as an artist, attributed the inspiration for his patterns, colour combinations and shape to the Shembe religion. He was a devout Shembe follower, praying and meditating daily in a special room.

Today his work can be seen in a number of South African museums and also in museums overseas.

To see the baskets and mbenges he created, visit the Voortrekker/

Mzunduzi Museum in Langalibalele Street. The exhibition runs until April 13 and is open from 9 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday, and 9 am to 1 pm Saturdays and public holidays. Inquiries: 033 394 6834/5.

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