The global interest in the traditions of other nations is supported by the worldwide desire to travel, as well as by programmes and articles in the media. The form, the volume and the integrity of the material introduce a connection to the roots of a living culture and bring a sense of the permanence of the creative spirit of mankind into the living space.
Craft can be defined as useful and aesthetically pleasing objects created mainly by hand asking specific materials and developed skills. (Susan Shellschop/Wendy Goldblatt/ Doreen Hemp 2002)
The subject of my discussion/field research is Kim Sacks’s gallery/retail outlet in Rosebank Johannesburg where she sells and displays a large range of crafts with the foundation of her interest being the development of ceremanic’s in South Africa.
Kim Sacks was established in 1986 in Yeoville. Here she founded a pottery school and gallery to develop an appreciation of what ceramics were about. Much of her experience comes from travels through Europe and her studies at the Royal Danish School of Art in Copenhagen.
In 1998 she moved the gallery to Rosebank to be closer to the developing market. The gallery is positioned close to the Hyatt and Westcliff hotels, which attract many tourists, and 13000 local cars pass by the gallery daily. The ceramics school still operates from Yeoville.
The gallery is a fusion of architectural styles taken from her travels all over the world and combined into a statement on Africa. The entrance to the gallery is enormously high, with pots on the windowsills above the entrance and the walls covered with the latest finds, displayed in layers of time, colour and object. Although the outside is painted a rich terracotta, the interior is bright jewel colours, which accentuates the natural tones of many of the objects to their full potential.
Some items are very old and valuable, while others she simply collected because they are unusual or zany.
There is also a large collection of ceramic’s, from the finest most delicate works to more bold and colorful work by many different artists.
The crafts vary from traditional, transitional to contemporary. She selects “cutting edge stuff that define trends” (Kim Sacks).
‘Traditional’ – crafts using techniques passed down through the generations to make objects for daily or ceremonial use .
‘Transitional’- crafts made by traditional techniques, skills or materials to develop a new range of objects. An example in South Africa is the use of plastic beads in traditional beadwork, or telephone wire for basket making.
‘Contemporary’- covers the rapidly developing field of designer items, frequently the work of formally trained professionals.
Something about the artists and their artworks on display:
Mapula and karosswerkers embroidery:
Mapula- meaning mother of rain – is project in Winterveldt, a semi rural area about 45 km north of Pretoria. It was started about 10 years ago as a collaborative effort between the woman of Wintervelt, the Sisters of mercy and a group from Soroptomists International.
More than 80 needle workers belong to Mapula, earning a living from creating colorful embroidered works. Kim has a variety of embroidered cushion covers, calico shirts, embroidered cloths and wall hangings in her gallery. Some cloths are embroidered with signs from Arrive alive safe-driving campaign or posters from the AIDS education programmes. There are especially impressive wall hangings by Mrs June Makhubele that included textile, beads, mirror, wool and safety pins.
Karosswerkers- an equally dynamic project started in Letsitele. This project began in 1988 on the orange farm of Irma van Rooyen and her husband. Initially, only five women joined the project, but have since grown to about 600 people.
The drawings are prepared on cloths and embroidery threads are supplied to the embroiders. The drawings incorporates forms found on local craft objects (Solomon Mohati) and now Kelvin Machlawaule has joined the group and uses references to oral histories or scenes from contemporary life on the cloths. When the cloths are complete, the women bring them to the centre to be hemmed and sewn into cushion covers, mats and wall hangings.
Mdukatshani – meaning “ The place of the lost grasses” was a badly eroded farm with a few prospects when Neil and Creina Alcock moved there and Creina began a beadwork project with the women in the region. Today, the grass has regrown , and the beadwork and copper-wire eggs and bowls have transformed the lives of hundreds of people.
Because of the legal restrictions on telephone wire at the time, craftspeople began experimenting with fine-gauge industrial copper wire, developing a range of woven copper articles, often interwoven with beads, that include eggs, bracelets, napkin rings, jewelry and baskets, all exquisitely finished and highly decorative. Elias Mtshegu won first prize in the copper section at the Contemporary Zulu Basket Exhibition in Johannesburg in November 2000.
Zulu beer pots, porcupine quills, baskets, Martha Zettler – bone china vessels, Sue Jowell’s mirrors and other in tin and copper, traditional Zulu ‘isisholo’ hats from Zululand, wooden Tsonga headrests,Tsonga embroidered cloths, fabric threads and beads,Venda doma drums or ngoma, traditional Zulu pots, Rebecca Matibe’s ceramic and vessel creations, Samantha Morgan’s pottery, terracotta pots from Venda, Jabu Nala’s terracotta beer pots, Pedi headpieces, porcelain vessels decorated with plastic- coated wire (woven by Joseph Msomi), framed bead circles on fabric produced in the Makosha Village(Limpopo), Pedi aprons,Zodwa Mahlangu’s beaded dolls are some of the objects found in Kim Sacks’s gallery.
Traditional African art has evolved from being largely determined by materials such as wood, clay stone, grass and leather – primarily the manufacture of decorated ceremonial or functional implements to the inclusion of a variety of Western genres ranging from portraits, urban and rural landscapes to abstraction and conceptualism.
African art has not existed in total cultural isolation at any time because culture is not static. Humans are constantly interacting with each other.
Contemporary art production in Africa responds to the demands of tourist trade and the tourist trade is based on the acceptance that traditions, cultural groups, practices are changing constantly.
Kim Sacks’s collection is as mentioned an excellent example of this as mentioned in my introduction. The “evolution “ of traditional/authentic art is wonderfully represented in her collection, which is attractive to both the tourist but also, she mentions will pride, a growing local clientele. Her local clientele includes over three thousand local collectors.