V&A Joy from Africa

UMTHOMBO BY AFRICAN ART CENTRE

A REGION TO DISCOVER 
The creators of this totem hail from three diverse areas in KwaZulu-Natal, each with its own unique character. 

Manguzi lies furthest north, 15km from the Mozambican border, and is a small, unspoilt rural area near the coast that is home to about 5,600 people. It lies next to Kosi Bay, a series of four interlinked lakes that form part of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the site of many turtle hatchings. Boat rides through read channels, snorkelling along mangrove banks and viewing endemic cycads and ferns in the ocean-side forests are part of the experience here. Artisan Sibusiso Gumede, who resides here, says, “People of this area are well known for having a great respect for culture and traditions. It is a very peaceful place. When you are here, you get very close to nature, which is a beautiful thing.”

KwaMashu, just north of Durban, is known for its vibrant performing-arts scene, and is the setting for two local TV series: Uzalo and eHostela. Maskandi (a type of Zulu folk music), hip hop and pantsula can be heard wherever one ventures, and house music goes hand in hand with the shisa nyama food culture that thrives in this township. KwaMashu is often described as one of the most dangerous parts of South Africa, and it is not recommended to wander around freely. But, says totem weaver and recent KwaMashu resident Ben Biyela, “There are organised guided tours and community art workshops run by artists that one can visit.”

Greytown lies in the forested Midlands area of KZN, and is a picturesque town surrounded by aloes, euphorbia, sugar cane, pine, wattle, gum and poplar trees. Situated alongside the Mvoti River, and nestled below rolling hills, it’s the perfect place for fishing, hiking, mountain biking and bird watching.

Africa_Art_1

GETTING THERE 
Manguzi
is a five-hour drive from King Shaka International Airport. During the final hour of the trip, you will probably encounter many cows wandering the road, so drive slowly. In order to drive inside the wetland park, you’ll require a 4x4 (else book a tour). Pack your passport if you want to pop up to Mozambique.

KwaMashu is less than 20km from Durban, so catching a taxi is easy. It costs R60 and takes 20-35 minutes.

Greytown can be reached by driving two hours from Durban along the N3 and R33, passing the Valley of a 1000 Hills. The alternative route along the Dolphin Coast and R614 is equally scenic but takes an extra 30 minutes. Greytown is 500km from Johannesburg. This route follows the N3 and then turns off onto the R103 to pass Roosboom and the Tugela Drift Nature Reserve before joining the R74 at Colenso to bypass Weenen Nature Reserve. 


WHEN TO VISIT 
Visit Manguzi between November and March to see loggerhead and leatherhead sea turtles travel onshore to lay their eggs in the sand dunes of Kosi Bay. It’s hot and humid, so remember your mosquito repellent.

KwaMashu is always a vibe. KZN’s warm climate means that the outdoor kasi culture can be enjoyed even in winter.

Because of its proximity to the Drakensberg mountains, Greytown experiences very cold winter evenings, making visits outside of these months more pleasant. Although, sitting in front of a fireplace in Greytown is rather idyllic.

Africa_Art_2

A MASTERY OF MATERIALS
This totem has been created with wooden sculpted animals and pillars decorated in telewire weaving. 

The wooden sculptures are hand-carved from Manguzi’s indigenous leafberry trees (mpengende in isiZulu), a wood that is light in colour and soft in texture. The wood is cut green and chopped into rough shapes before the animal form is carved from it with an ucelemba (panga) and the wood is left to dry. Drying time depends on the weather, so, to make sure it is dry, the wood is dropped into a bucket of water – if it sinks, it is still green and needs further drying. Once dry, it is smoothed with sandpaper and painted with a base colour before adding fine decorative designs and patterns.

“I am a farmer, and a farmer respects nature,” says Widuz. “The trees we use do not bear fruit and, when cutting, we work with one section or bed on our farms and rejuvenate that section after cutting, moving to the next bed so that the trees can grow back again.”

Traditionally, Zulu beer strainers (amavovo) and beer pot covers (izimbenge) were woven in grass. Later, these were woven in telephone wire (also known as scooby wire) because of its colour options and durability. Telewire has now become a very popular material in weaving, and uses the same art of threading, counting and pulling to create intricate patterns and geometric designs, with each weaver will action this differently to create their own signature style. Says weaving artist Ben Biyela, who started his craft as a teenager, decorating knobkieries, “Grass is seasonal and favours certain areas, but telewire is available all year round for weaving and you get more length in the material as compared to grass.”


THE STORY OF UMTHOMBO 
Umthombo means ‘tree with the purest water’ in isiZulu. It is the source of life – where it all begins. Purest crystal waters charge through the tree’s strong, deep roots, which weave their magic through the hot, earthy plains and cool, lush forests. Umthombo welcomes all the wild creatures and animals to its branches, bringing them together to complete the circle of life.

Says Ben, “Trees and water are an important part of our being. In my community, trees are seen as places to congregate and sit in the shade, and places for birds to nest. Trees represent life to me. This totem means purity, water, life.” 

“When water is pure nature flourishes,” says Widuz, who sculpted and painted some of the animals thriving in this totem. His ingungumbane (porcupine), uFishi (fish) and inyoni (bird) can be seen on Umthombo (along with other characters carved by his colleagues). He says these particular animals make him happy, as they always sell and earn him an income. “The porcupine is interesting to me with all the spears on its back, and fish and birds always look so peaceful and free, with no worries.”

    
https://afri-art.co.za
@africanartcentre

African_Art_3

Art created by

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and never miss another update from the V&A Waterfront.