Meeting the Makers: Contemporary Craft of KwaZulu-Natal

Meeting the Makers

Contemporary Craft of KwaZulu-Natal

In 2010, the Gallery received funding from the National Arts Council of South Africa for an exhibition and publication on contemporary craft in KwaZulu-Natal. Lovers of excellence have long been concerned about the mass of unimaginative and sub-standard wares that is sold as craft all around us. We hoped to find craft items that were excellently constructed, had aesthetic appeal, and which had a sense of originality.

The Gallery staff set out with enthusiasm on a series of well-planned field trips. We met, interviewed and photographed crafters in their working environments, and purchased high quality craft items. We scoured the province from north to south and east to west, and selected an exhibition we feel reflects the best craft produced in the province. The publication which accompanies the exhibition offers some insights into issues which currently concern crafters and craft making. Photographs help suggest the environments and conditions under which craft is produced, showing how the human spirit is capable of producing beauty in spite of all odds. This show is for anyone interested in beautiful objects.

This groundbreaking exhibition opened at the Tatham Art Gallery in July, uniting a broad diversity of contemporary craft producers in KZN. From the beautifully rendered work of crafters such as Bonginkosi Tshabalala and Humphrey Modibedi to commercially produced products from internationally acclaimed talents Egg Design and Richard Stretton, Meeting the Makers promises a cross-section of the kind of creative talents that can only be found in the diverse physical and cultural landscapes of KwaZulu-Natal.

Nonhlanhla Mabanga, Grass, plastic & nylon basketThe National Arts Council (NAC) has partnered with the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg to produce a flagship exhibition and publication on contemporary art in KwaZulu-Natal. The aim of the project is to promote selected crafters from the province who are producing high quality, sustainable objects that bridge the divide between traditional craft and so-called 'high art'.

In the western world, fine art has for many centuries been granted greater status than craft, but with more and more art museums incorporating ‘craft’ into their permanent collections, a revolution is slowly taking hold and the division between the two concepts is beginning to dissolve. Through the exhibition and the accompanying book, Meeting the Makers will showcase the richness and variety of contemporary craft production in KZN, while at the same time providing crafters with much needed income, both from the purchase of their work, and also from the possibility of future work generated by their presence in this high profile exhibition.

Made possible by funding from the NAC, the Tatham staff have spent the past few months traversing the province in search of crafters with a unique contemporary vision. In South Africa, and specifically KwaZulu-Natal, a great many people earn their livelihood from crafts. But in a world defined by constant change, there has long been concern about the mass of unimaginative and sub-standard wares that are sold in SA, many of which have not evolved much from the seaside curios produced during the apartheid era.

Guido & Coralie van Besouw, Glass bowl

On their travels the Tatham staff hoped to find craft items that were excellently designed and constructed, visually outstanding, and which had a sense of originality that made them shine compared to the usual array of craft that can be found at local markets and curio stores. All the staff members who went on field trips were required to keep diaries, the stories from which are to be included in the book, which is being published by the Gallery. As Brendan Bell, Director of the Tatham states, "It is about objects, yes, but it is more about the people who make those objects".

Altogether there were eight major field trips and plenty of day trips to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, as well as visits in and around the Durban Metro area. The team scoured the province, sourcing over 150 pieces produced by nearly 100 crafters, and have assembled an exhibition that truly reflects the best craft produced in KZN.

Nonhlanhla Mabanga, Grass, plastic & nylon basketThe collection ranges from traditional Zulu ceramics to contemporary lighting designs, and includes a bespoke collection of basketry, embroidery, wood turning, jewellery and wire work. There is an impressive mix of traditional craft-making and cutting edge design. Embroidery produced by local crafters from the Ingwavuma region sits alongside a high-tech lamp by urban product designers, Egg Designs. Other work on display includes turned bowls by Andrew Early, furniture from Koop Design, paper flowers from the award-winning Shaw Sisters and phenomenal beadwork from members of the Hillcrest Aids Centre.

The book which accompanies the exhibition offers some insights into the issues which currently concern crafters and craft making. In rural areas this often involves problems of accessing materials and markets. Photographs in the book illustrate the environments and conditions under which craft is produced. This is sometimes a salutary lesson in how the human spirit is capable of producing beauty in the face of dismal odds.

Andrew Early, Wooden Bench

Meeting the Makers: Contemporary Craft of KwaZulu-Natal opens at the Tatham Art Gallery (PMB) on Thursday 28th July at 18h00 and runs until Sunday 18th September at 17h00

If you would like to set up interviews with any of the crafters, please contact Kirsty on +27 (0)74 644 1492 or email kirsty@thecommunicationfactory.org


The Tatham Art Gallery in association with the National Arts Council

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