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Traditional art on show

The work of traditional artists was exhibited at the Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market. They are "culture bearers" who preserve the heritage of the country.

October 2, 2012

Artists Beauty Ndlovu and Lobolile Ximba at the art marketArtists Beauty Ndlovu and Lobolile
Ximba at the art market

Traditional artists exhibited so much more than just their art at the annual Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market (MTAM); they also displayed extensions of themselves in their hand-crafted masterpieces.

From colourful, eloquently beaded fertility dolls to baskets woven before visitors' eyes, traditional crafters from across the country brought their work to the gathering in Nelspruit to celebrate Heritage Month and to show their work, work that adds to South Africa's uniqueness. The event ran from 28 to 30 September as part of the MTAM. It was set inside a rather bustling venue this year – the Riverside Mall, taking full advantage of the month-end foot traffic.

The annual art market is a project of the Industrial Development Corporation's corporate social investment programme.

Nomvula Mashoai-Cook, the MTAM's executive director, said: "Through this market, the artisans have an opportunity to promote art that is steeped in tradition, using skills which have been handed down from one generation to the other. Through our selection criteria process, we make sure that the art work is original, not copied, nor commercially manufactured."

Apart from the craft, there was also proudly South Africa food available in the form of biltong.

The artisans, primarily women from rural communities, were central to the market, she said. "Through the MTAM, we seek to address poverty and create and strengthen market access for the artisans … We hope to position our artisans to become financially independent and [empower] their broader communities."

Artists preserve traditions

Nomvuselelo Mavundla weaves a traditional basketNomvuselelo Mavundla weaves a
traditional basket
It was a privilege to work with these "culture bearers", Mashoai-Cook added, "who are playing such a vital role ensuring that traditions are preserved and honoured as we continue to celebrate who we are as a people".

Crafters displaying their work at the market were Beauty Ndlovu from Durban, Labolile Ximba from Greytown, Joana Kabimi from Kwamhlanga, Rachael Skosana from Kwamhlanga, Nomvula Ntuli from Kwamhlanga, and Nhlanhla Sibiya, from Nelspruit.

Ndlovu, who beads miniature animals, started her art in 1989. She has since taught her beadwork skill to seven women in her community. Her art was inspired by books and magazines of animals. She first showed her contemporary designs at the African Art Centre in Durban, before joining the Siyazama Community Project, which brought much-needed assistance.

Ximba learned her craft of making traditional Zulu fertility dolls from her mother. These dolls play a role in Msinga courtships, engagements and fertility rituals. Ximba has also joined forced with the Siyazama Project, which enables traditional crafters from Durban to express their concerns about HIV/Aids.

Art as empowerment

Asked about the MTAM, Mashoai-Cook explained that the idea was mooted in 2008 to "empower artisans in rural communities". It was implemented in September 2009, with the primary focus to expose local audiences to traditional art from across the country, to help artists to become self-sustaining, and to train and develop young artists.

The market prides itself on promoting awareness of South Africa's cultural heritage; building on indigenous knowledge; ensuring sustainability in the commercialisation of traditional, contemporary and transitional art; and creating economic streams for the artists and their broader communities.

"Besides my passion [for] the preservation of traditional art, the incredible support from the Kellogg Foundation and Santa Fe Folk Art Market in New Mexico, coupled with [my] previous experience of working with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, prompted me to start this amazing work," she said.

Mashoai-Cook underwent six months of intensive training in New Mexico on producing an art market that would empower the artisans. The crafters are also able to exhibit their work at the IDC's gallery at its head office in Sandton, which is also run by Mashoai-Cook. Earlier this month, a new exhibition was opened with the work of five female artists – Beauty Ndlovu, Lobolile Ximba, Thembi Nala, Angelina Masuku, and Nomvuselelo Mavundla.

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