Art & Design in South Africa Today

Mesuli Mamba, “Rolfe’s Environment”

Mesuli Mamba is prison warden and collage artist in Swaziland, South Africa.  That’s where he grew up.  Mamba first learned about art from his father’s collection of Reader’s Digest —  which he still mines for collage materials, along with drawings,  poetry texts,  and glossy magazines (which can be hard to  get).

The 34-year-old says: ” “Being a prison warden is tough. Real tough. But once you get used to it, you get to know the people in your community—we’re supposed to call them inmates but they’re just my machita [guys]. They don’t know about my collages yet.”

Paul Emmanuel, “Air on the Skin”

The work above by Paul Emmanuel is not exactly collage. It’s a series of incised drawings with shoe polish and acrylic.

Emmanuel is a printmaker whose recent work has incorporated photography, bookmaking, and installation.

But in “Air on the Skin,” the montage format makes it collage-like.  My blog borders were too narrow to really do justice to the details —  see a larger version here.

A new exhibition, Conversations, has Mpho Moshe Matheolane marvelling at the city of Johannesburg and the different people that live in it. (Mpho Moshe Matheolane, M&G)

Sam Nhlengethwa

Sam Nhlengethwa is a notable South African artist who listens to Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” a lot.  Practically every week.  Based in Johannesburg, he does have a lot of tributes to jazz in his collages and prints. But he also explores subjects like the plight of mine workers, life in the townships, and contemporary African spaces, as in the urban landscape above.

Part of a show entitled “Conversations,” this image is a detail from a large-scale work “Cyclists Mural.”  See the full image here.    Based on the view from his window, the work took more than three months to complete.

Hopefully, his apartment is near Niki’s —  a local jazz club/ restaurant, where you can stop by for burgers, as well as Mogodu (Tripe),  Mngqusho (corn kernels & beans),  and   Potjiekos served with pap (a  kind of stew and maize porridge).  Plus Chakalaka, which is a spicy relish.  I couldn’t find out if they deliver.

One of Marianne Fassler's wedding dress designs

Marianne Fassler, wedding dress

Marianne Fassler of Leopardfrock is considered the doyenne of South African fashion designers.   She uses a lot of African-sourced fabrics and prints — but, okay, maybe not in the wedding gowns.  This one looks like paper collage!

Fashion by designer Palesa Mokubung via Soul City Movement

Palesa Mokubung is a South African designer whose works have been called bohemian, punk, and avant-garde.    They’re also notable for reflecting an African aesthetic.   Her label is called Mantsho, which means “Brutally Black.”

Mokena Makeka & Makeka Design Lab, Evolo Skyscraper, Cape Town, South Africa

Mokena Makeka believes creativity will change the world —  if it’s given the opportunity to do so.   He’s a young architect and designer whose firm focuses on public art and architecture  for social and economic innovation.

For a competition to design a trophy for the World Cup, he used recycled beer bottles.  The sponsor, Buddweiser, rejected the idea because it “wasn’t African enough.”

A different kind of example:  “Freedom Walk” in Cape Town is a plan to create a “corridor of activity” in the area between the town station and its stadium.  Using permanent and temporary spaces and performances created along the route, the architect seeks to revitalize a neglected area of the city, attracting tourists and locals, small businesses and arts.

Makeka says, “I see myself as a provocateur.  I’m an inventor. I’m an experimenter.  I’m a designer.  I ask the difficult questions.”  Watch  an inspiring 5-minute talk by Makeka  here.

As for the Evolo Skyscraper (above) it was designed as a functional metaphor for how technology and culture in South Africa combine to create structures.  “We’ve come to a time when we’ve realized,” says Makeka, “that technology, divorced from creativity, “is unable to solve our problems.”

Benon Lutaaya is one of a number of artists who have come to work in South Africa from other sub-Saharan countries (in his case, Uganda).   His collages range from abstract works like the one above to painterly portraits, especially of children, like the one below, “Eternal Hope.”

In today’s South Africa,  artists and designers are part of a vibrant culture working to realize Nelson Mandela’s  dream of a fully thriving nation.

Benon Lutaya, “Eternal Hope” 2013


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