A Vibrant Art Culture in South Africa

Savor The Local Culture

Of course you'll want to visit the ART GALLERIES of which there are many in Durban.
There are the regular exhibitions at
  • The Durban Art Gallery
  • The BAT Centre
  • Art Scape Gallery, or
  • Tatham Art Gallery
    and several others which you will hopefully visit as part of your Painting Holiday Tour.

  • Browse through our many galleries and be transported to another art world.
    Many galleries have restaurants so you can enjoy a tastymeal alongside some great art viewing.

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    Traditional Crafts and Markets

    Many thanks to www.kzn.org for this article that so well describes the Art Culture of the Zulu people

    The Kingdom of the Zulu provides a wealth of art and craft works throughout the province, from the traditional, to the modern, from highly sophisticated, to the charmingly naive, and from the widely affordable to items worth a small fortune.

    Hand-made crafts are an integral part of Zulu culture, and incorporates decorative elements such as bead work, jewellery and clothing, artifacts used in ceremonies and rituals, as well as practical items like clay pots, sleeping mats and wooden head-rests which date back centuries.

    Many Zulu crafters continue to make traditional crafts, offering them for sale at roadside stalls, markets and shops. Most of the materials are gathered from nature – reeds, clay, plants, trees and animals. Increasing use is made of recycled materials like wire, plastic and tin.

    Many crafters and artists have opened their studios and workshops to the public and have organised themselves into arts and crafts routes where visitors can browse for gifts while watching the artists at work.

    Visitors to the Zulu Kingdom can enjoy the arts and crafts in many ways – at sophisticated galleries and art shops, country studios and workshops or enthusiastic roadside vendors selling everything from wire toys and trinkets to traditional clay pots and carvings.

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    A Story of Beads

    The Zulu Kingdom is home to some of the finest, most creative bead workers in the world. For the Zulus, beadwork is an integral part of their culture, handed down through the generations. Highly decorative certainly, but the significance lies as much in the unique ‘language’ of beads, as the aesthetic value. The colours, shapes and designs of beads speak volumes to the beholder.

    The earliest Zulu beads were made from organic materials like seeds, seashells, ivory and animal teeth, and coloured with natural dyes – fruit, leaves, roots, mud and bark. Later, glass beads were introduced by European traders, and there are records of gold, ivory, even slaves, being traded for them.

    The language of beads is primarily linked to love. Zulu maidens would send long involved bead messages to their lovers, weaving thoughts of love, grief, jealousy or uncertainty into their intricately patterned creations. Colours have different meanings – white for purity, pink for poverty, blue for loneliness, and green for pining. But there are many subtle variations: a black strip horizontally bisecting a piece of white means ‘our love is over’.

    The bead work ranges from simple jewellery, tokens and little gift trinkets, to ultra-sophisticated evening wear and jewellery commissioned and exported worldwide.

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    Traditionally, Zulu crafters made carefully woven baskets made from lengths of copper wire. Today the Zulu Kingdom is experiencing a glorious wirework revolution. Increasing numbers of talented wire crafters are creating magnificent baskets in bold colours. Interestingly, this craft originated when security guards kept themselves awake through the long nights by covering their protective sticks or ‘knobkerries’ with brightly coloured telephone wire!

    Steel wire sculptures – animals, people, musical instruments, bicycles – are another fascinating form of wire work which you will find at flea markets and roadside stalls.

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    Traditional African wooden carving is possibly the craft most commonly associated with African culture.

    Sold alongside almost every main road in the Zulu Kingdom, carvings are found in styles ranging from crude and charmingly na??ve to breathtaking fine-art work found in galleries worldwide.

    Traditionally, carvings are made using the wood from indigenous trees such as ‘Umthombothi’ with its appealing combination of light and dark wood, or ‘red ivory’, another local timber.

    Others use wood from exotic species, or ‘recycled’ wood. One of the Zulu Kingdom’s foremost wood carvers, Philemon Sangweni, trawls the river bed of the Imfolozi River after rainstorms for pieces of indigenous wood washed downstream. Look out for his work at the Durban Art Gallery.

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    The art of ‘pot-making’ is an age-old tradition, widespread in the Zulu Kingdom. Enthusiasts can find ceramics ranging from traditional Zulu pots to more classical or contemporary collections produced by crafters who’ve gained international recognition.

    The award-winning Nala family of Eshowe in Zululand continue to create clay beer pots using techniques passed down through the generations. They produce the ukhamba’ drinking pot, the smaller ‘imbiza’ for storing beer, and the much larger ‘uphiso’. The clay is hand dug from two areas near their ancestral home, one clay is red, the other grey. The clay is ground, sieved and dried, before being mixed with water in a ten-gallon iron drum. They leave the clay to mature, before it is wedged and rolled into balls.

    The pots are hand coiled, then smoothed using a piece of calabash or an old spoon. They use river pebbles to burnish the pots, then add traditional decorations of small pieces of shaped clay. These decorations were symbols designated to a particular family or clan, often depicting a story or a picture.

    Nowadays the younger members of the family experiment by adding reptiles or cultural scenes.

    Once the pot is completed, it is left to dry naturally before being covered in dry grasses, stalks and leaves and set alight. This ‘fires’ the pot, while a second firing blackens it. The finished item is rubbed with animal fat, and brushed until it shines.

    Clay pots of this kind can be viewed and purchased at the African Art Centre, while the Bayside Gallery at the BAT Centre specialises in ceramics, including work by the Nala family and internationally acclaimed artists such as Subisiso Dube, Rodney Blumenfeld, Clive Sithole and Marta Zettler.

    Traditional pots are also sold by roadside vendors, craft stalls and markets.

    Contemporary potter Ian Glenny established the internationally renowned Dargle Valley Pottery in the Midlands. All his ceramics are authentically local, crafted on site from clay found in the valley, while many of the glazes originate from local wood ash. Ian builds the kilns and hand throws the pots. His designs are original, and all pieces are both robust and functional, as well as being collectors’ items.

    Another must for the seeker of unique ceramic design, is a visit to the Ardmore Art Studio in the Champagne Valley, central Drakensberg. Fee Halsted-Berning blended her considerable expertise and knowledge with that of Bonakele “Bonnie” Ntshalintshali, and they were joined by some 40 Zulu artists from the local Ntshalintshali and Shabalala families.
    A unique and dynamic partnership developed over time, and the functional and sculpted ceramics based on a fusion of African and colonial artistic traditions, are now on display at Christies of London.
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    Fine Art

    Art lovers are spoilt for choice as there are many fine art galleries around the Zulu Kingdom.

    The African Art Centre in Durban represents over 1000 artists. The Centre opened its doors in 1959 against overwhelming political odds, and supported many traditional African artists whom, today, are world renowned. Throughout the year, you can enjoy exhibitions of both antique and contemporary art, all with origins deeply entrenched in the Zulu culture.

    Also supporting community art production is the Bat Centre, found next to the tugboat harbour in central Durban. Fledgling artists are selected to work at the BAT Centre for about three months. Visitors can meet the artists at work in the studio, and browse the galleries and shops displaying a vast selection of artwork for sale. And while you’re at the Bat Centre, sample the traditional African cuisine on offer at the restaurant, and catch some African jazz on the verandah overlooking the harbour.

    For classical and contemporary collections, visit the Durban Art Gallery, in the City Hall in Smith Street. This gallery holds between 13 and 15 exhibitions a year, and also curates ‘in-house’ exhibitions around the city from time to time.

    Also a public venue with free entrance, the Tatham Gallery in central Pietermaritzburg is ideally placed for a visit before heading off to the Midlands Meander art centres. This gallery houses a permanent collection of contemporary and traditional fine art, with an equal blend of African and European influences, as well as roving exhibitions.

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    Lets end with..


    Always a good way to feel the culture through the art and life of the people to savor the local flavor:

    In Durban

    • Killie Campbell Museum - An elegant colonial homestead in the leafy suburb of Berea houses one of South Africa's most exciting collections of Africana.
    • Bergtheil Museum - Artefacts, documents and photographs relating to the area's 1848 German settlers are housed in this quaint 19th Century farmhouse.
    • Natal Maritime Museum
    • Natal Railway Museum
    • Natural History Museum
    • The Voortrekker Museum is in the Church of Vow which was built by the Boers fullfilling a promise made before winning the battle called Blood River
    • Natal Museum, here there is a recreation of an 1880’s street scene
    Other Areas
    • Ardmore Museum at Winterton has it’s own reading room and you watch work in the communal clay workshop. Great for a tea stop when in the Champagne Valley. Mon-Fri 09:00-15:00
    • Ilala Weavers is a Zulu Museum at Hluhluwe (035) 562-0630
    • Ladysmith Siege Museum was built in 1884 opens Mon – Fri 09:00-16:00 and on Sat 09:00 – 13:00 Tel: 036 637 2992

    My work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance
    Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip