The World Can’t Get Enough of South Africa’s Heritage-Inspired Designs
By Nomali Cele
More often than not, South African musicians who make it “big” internationally use their platforms to speak out against issues we face as a country.
One of the most iconic instances was when the late Mam’ Miriam Makeba delivered a speech at the UN assembly in 1963. In it she spoke against the human rights violations that were happening in apartheid South Africa.
Now, in 2015, it’s not just musicians taking South Africa to the world — but acts like Ladysmith Black Mabazo, The Soil, Freshlyground and the Soweto Gospel Choir have done a stellar job. Our local filmmakers, designers and visual artists, are joining them.
In celebration of Heritage Day, meet the designers and artists putting distinctly South African design, art and style on the world map.
There are 17 official MBW art cars in the world: one of them was painted by the artist Esther Mahlangu in 1991.
Mam’ Esther Mahlangu became the first woman and first African to achieve this feat, joining the ranks of Andy Warhol and Frank Stella. Mahlangu’s work draws from and expresses indigenous Ndebele aesthetics with her use of the geometric, graphic and bold.
Her artistic beginnings came in childhood when she went through a rite where girls were taught beadwork to mark their passage into young womanhood. These skills were passed down from one generation to the next. Around this same time, she learnt also about the traditional Ndebele way of painting house walls — a skill that would form a large part of her work as an artist.
In 1989 she had her first international show at the Magicens de la terre exhibition in the Pompidou Since then, her work has been shown in galleries around the world, everywhere from Italy to America to Japan. Starting on her 80th birthday, the 11th of November 15, Esther Mahlangu 80, her first solo exhibition since 2008, will open at the UCT Irma Stern Museum. She holds The Order of Ikhamanga in silver for her contribution to the development of indigenous Ndebele arts.
MaXhosa by Laduma
In MaXhosa by Laduma Ngxokolo you find a lot of elements that confront today’s young, creative African: how do you pay homage to where you come from? How do you make your culture seem cool to your peers? And how do you integrate the stories your elders tell you of the beginning and where you come from with the present? The answer, it would seem from looking at Ngxokolo’s knitwear, is: beautifully.
His first collection came from his desire to create beautiful knitwear for amakrwala (Xhosa Initiate). For boys, this is a rite of passage and in his experience of it, Ngxokolo saw a gap that wasn’t being filled. He began making MaXhosa knitwear in 2011 using South African mohair and wool. Earlier in the year, Ngxokolo won the Vogue Italia “Scouting for Africa’ prize, which saw him showcase at Palazzo Morando in Milan, Italy.
In the designer’s own words, “to own a Thabo Makhetha garment is to make the statement: I’m beautiful, I’m sophisticated, I’m African!”
Thabo Makhetha is a young, Port Elizabeth-based designer. Her more striking and hailed innovation pays homage to her beginnings in Lesotho. With the range, Kobo ea Bohali (Blankets of Prestige,) Makhetha uses the Basotho blanket, seana marena, to make outerwear.
With the likes of Pharrell Williams spotted wrapped up in LV blankets — Basotho style — we think it’s only a matter of time before Thabo Maketha designs get international attention.
Sindiso Khumalo, designer and owner of her namesake clothing label, lives and designs in London where she moved to work as an architect. She was born in Botswana, grew up in Durban and studied in the Western Cape. Her work is bold, bright and beautiful.
In her own words, her “visual voice draws from her Zulu and Ndebele heritage”. With a nomination for the “Most Beautiful Object” at Design Indaba and showcasing at The Smithsonian Museum of African Art in Washington and The Royal Festival Hall in London, Khumalo is getting love from both the world and here at home.
A big part of celebrating heritage lies in instilling pride in where one comes from. Any parent of a black child will tell you how difficult it is to find dolls that not only look like your child but also inspire a sense of pride and self-love in a world where Barbie is ubiquitous.
Enter Ntombenhle Dolls. Designed by Molemo Kgomo, Ntombenhle is dressed in beautiful attire that (currently) represents eight cultures: VhaVenda, AmaNdebele, BaSotho, VaTsonga, AmaXhosa, AmaZulu, BaPedi and AmaSwazi.
Support local makers and artists; learn about the heritages that inspire them!