We recently visited South Africa where we had the unique chance to get to know the rich cultural heritage of Northern Limpopo, which is expressed by the various tribes of this region in their own artistic way. It’s an exiting rural-hip style that is developing in the North and we were happy to get to know some of the leading characters. We got to see a variety of expressive forms and we talked about their origin and spiritual places, working with natural materials and their connection to nature, as well as what it’s like working as an artist in South Africa.
We met Avashoni Mainganye a visual artist and sculptor of the Venda people in the Culture and Arts Centre in Thohoyandou. He expresses himself in various forms and mediums such as painting and printing, wood and stone carving, photography and poetry. His friends calls him ‘Shoni’. Wood is an important material for him as a Venda, since wood resembles the place of their origin. „It tributes to us as being sculptors. Many cultural aspects are reflected in the wood. When you think of wood, it’s something you can feel. The wood carvers, they dream of wood when they sleep. Sculpture is part of our lives and culture. The commercial part of it came when people from Europe came and traded with it“.
He worked with big galleries, but claims „they sometimes restrict you and want to show one side of you. But im not that kind of person, I’m a person with many ideas. I’m not searching for myself, I want to reflect what’s inside and look what media suits best”. Since 1999 he has also been running his own art classes for students in the Thohoyandou Arts and Culture Centre. Many of the less known artists in the area were taught and instructed by him. Avashoni organized various exhibitions in South Africa, and founded the VhaVenda Art Foundation. He participated in a broad range of events, workshops and traveled to Zimbabwe, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium and the USA to teach his art form.
Kaross is an embroidery initiative that was founded in 1989 by dutch charismatic visual artist Irma van Rooyen and her husband with five Shangaan embroiders on their citrus farm in Letsitele, Northern Limpopo. „When we started the farm, we were suddenly involved in peoples life. Shangaan people are very artistic and skillful people. I saw the possibility to take embroidery further and do something for the quality of their lives. The woman can earn money by doing what they love and are good at. There exist a need for rural woman to acknowledge and explore their own capacity to make a difference in their communities and South Africa as a whole. Kaross believes in playing their part in realizing these peoples potential and empowering women,” she says.
The embroiderer receive cloth with the design pre-drawn onto it, together with a range of cotton-thread. They are free in creating their own colorful interpretation of it and after completing the work at their homes, the worker returns for payment and new work. These embroidered pieces are then made into tablecloths, place mats, cushion covers, wall hangings and bed linen. This way women of the region (and later on men) could work from home and watch their children whilst getting an income at the same time. This has a positive influence on the very fibre of the community.
Irmas recent project as an artist besides being creative director is creating a portrait of each worker of Kaross. She takes photos of all 1200 women and makes interviews with the ladies: Who they are, if they’re suffering, if they’re happy and so on. She writes a little story, whatever peaks her about the woman and then embroid each and everyones portrait and documenting all the people.
Thomas Kubayi is a very talented and popular wood carver, drum builder, musician and story teller. Woodcarving is inherited in Thomas’ family. Both his grandfather and father were woodcarvers and made functional art. We get to know him at his own art centre in Tshivhuyuni village, near Elim, Northern Limpopo. It’s a relaxed and rural atmosphere with sweeping views of the villages on the foothills of the Soutpansberg. Here he built up his own gallery and teaches young artists to carve and make traditional music and instruments. “The wood tells you what to do. You just need to listen. You have to follow the line and spend time with the wood before you start, it will come day by day and can take some years to progress”. He likes to make big sculptures, like the 3 meter high Mandela sculpture that is an expression of the great man’s strong yet gentle integrity. Thomas’ work is found in many private and public collections all over the world.
He also organizes music performances and woodcarving workshops and understands himself as a role model in his community. He’s involved in different initiatives in the village. We were lucky enough to listen to his music over a campfire. He has an exceptional gift for rhythm and music and frequently gathers young people to play traditional music together.