We drove down a dusty KwaMahlanga street, bordered by beige and brown houses. I saw dogs, chickens, and goats, all in various earth tones. Orange and lemon trees, laden with late-winter fruit, provided periodic bursts of yellow and orange.
We pulled in front of an earth-colored house, guarded by an earth-colored dog. A color explosion awaited inside.
Mama Anna Skhosana stood in the middle of the living room, draped in a jewel-toned blue, yellow, and red Ndebele blanket. Her shaved head was adorned with overlapping bands and a thick beaded collar hung around her neck.
Mama Anna’s artwork — a large wooden kudu head covered in intricate beadwork — sat nearly finished on the coffee table. After a few minutes of enthusiastic greetings between Mama Anna, her daughter Minky, and my hosts Nomvula and Mahlapane, Mama Anna sat down to continue beading.
We returned to Mama Anna’s house the next day and three kudu heads sat lined up on the sofa, ready for delivery to the Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market in Joburg.
Ndebele is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages, and the country’s Ndebele people have a unique cultural heritage. Most South Africans will recognize the traditional Ndebele painting style, in which whitewashed houses and walls are decorated with colorful geometric patterns.
Ndebele art has grown in popularity recently. In addition to traditional jewelry and paintings, the bold patterns now appear on shoes, placemats, bags, iPad covers, and pretty much any other surface imaginable.
Women artists in the KwaMahlanga region, which is an hour or two northeast of Pretoria in Mpumalanga Province, are producing much of the country’s most beautiful Ndebele art. Last weekend, Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market founder Nomvula Cook invited me to meet these talented women, document their work at their homes, and promote the upcoming market. It was a dream assignment.
The Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market
Nomvula, who is originally from Lesotho, has decades of experience curating and promoting traditional arts and crafts in South Africa. The annual Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market (MTAM) is Nomvula’s brainchild, raising awareness about the art, providing income streams for artists, and helping to keep the traditions alive. Nomvula focuses particularly on including artists of all ages in the market, ensuring younger women will continue the art form into the future.
This year’s market takes place next weekend, September 2nd and 3rd, at Melrose Arch in Joburg. After visiting the artists in Mpumalanga, I can barely contain my excitement for the market. View the full schedule of the market here — note there will be music and dancing, which is my favorite. Many of the Ndebele artists will be at the market themselves.
I’m running an MTAM photo contest and the winner will receive a free piece of art from the market. More on the contest at the end of this post.
The Ndebele Artists of Mpumalanga
I met about ten Ndebele artists last weekend, and watched them creating their art.
What struck me the most about the weekend was the intense give-and-take between Nomvula and the artists. Nomvula and her colleague, Mahlapane, spend a lot of time talking to the women, examining their work and providing suggestions on what will sell best at the market. In some cases the collaboration leads to entirely new kinds of art.
Examples of Mama Emily’s embroidery. When we arrived, Mama Emily had made small embroidered pillows and bags. Nomvula advised that in order to sell successfully at the market, Emily must create much larger pillows and tablecloths.
On our way out of KwaMahlanga on Sunday, we drove back to Mama Emily’s house to see if she had made the larger embroidered pillow that Nomvula suggested. Mama Emily wasn’t home but her son said she was on her way back. We drove off to try to intercept her.
We found Mama Emily walking down the road, returning from town. She had her new pillow cover with her, and showed it to Nomvula. “You’ve done it!” Nomvula exclaimed, and told Mama Emily then and there that she would be coming to the market in Joburg. Mama Emily was overjoyed.
Win a Piece of Art at the Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market
If you’d like to own one of these beautiful pieces yourself, here’s what to do:
- Like the Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market page on Facebook.
- Post a photo of your favorite piece of African art — it can be something you own, something you saw in a shop, something in a museum, even something you made yourself — on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and tag me at @2Summers. Tell me why you want to attend MTAM.
- I will choose a winner on Friday, 1 September: All entries must be submitted by 12:00 noon SA time on Friday. The winner will receive a piece of art of her/his choice from MTAM, up to the value of R500.
- I’ll meet the winner at the market at 10:00 a.m. on 2 September, to help pick out the prize.
In order to enter the contest, you must be available to attend the market on 2 September. Even if you don’t win, entrance to the market is free. You can still come and shop until you drop, which is what I plan to do.
See you at the market.
This post was commissioned by the Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market. Opinions expressed are mine.