We were fortunate to visit the African Art Centre on Florida Road in the heart of central Durban during our visit. The Centre is the major retail gallery for local Zulu artisans. Their description of the organization: “The Durban African Art Centre Association provides thousands of unemployed artists and craftspeople with opportunities of self-employment and economic upliftment and the ability to earn a sustainable living. We reach out to some of the poorest communities in KwaZulu Natal; the youth, rural women, the disabled, the unemployed and persons affected by HIV and AIDS. We have built a reputation for supplying specialized, high quality products hand crafted products. Every purchase made from the African Art Centre provides a sustainable income for more than 1,000 crafters supported by the Centre.”
According to Wikipidia, “The Zulu are a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa and the largest ethnic group in South Africa, with an estimated 10–11 million people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Small numbers also live in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Their language, Zulu, is a Bantu language; more specifically, part of the Nguni subgroup.” We also had the opportunity to travel inland to visit Zulu towns and watch a traditional Zulu dance troupe; stay tuned for an upcoming blog post…
The Center explains the colorful basketry: “Telephone wire basketry is an indigenous South African art form which has grown from the basket weaving skills of the Zulu people of KwaZulu Natal. The craft is said to have originated in the 1950’s when night watchmen working in the cities would weave telephone wire around their wooden walking sticks whilst working at night. Originally the wire was sourced from leftovers lying around, however when telephone wire started being ripped off and stolen off telephone poles, a supplier came on board and started producing the plastic casing specifically for the telephone wire producers.
“The majority of our weavers are from the Greytown and New Hanover areas in Central KwaZulu Natal. This group of almost 60 male and female basket weavers consistently create baskets in various shapes and sizes, including bowls, vases and other functional items. In addition to functional items, wire weavers supported by The African Art Centre produce vibrant, colourful telephone wire earrings, brooches, bracelets and bangles.”
The embroidery pictured above is a relatively new craft for the Zulus. The Centre notes: “In view of the high levels of unemployment, the production of craft has become a significant source of income particularly within rural and low-income communities in KwaZulu Natal. For more than 50 years, The African Art Centre has committed itself to facilitating and implementing relevant, strategic programmes and projects aimed at addressing the concern of unemployment. One such project was an embroidery project initiated by the African Art Centre in 2004 for a group of 7 young unemployed single mothers living in KwaZulu Natal. The group named themselves the Ntokozo Group. The word Ntokozo loosely translated means “happy” and the embroidered panels of bold images and exuberant colour speak of personal stories, the environment and the hopes and aspirations of the crafters. The group which has grown in number continues to produce a range of embroidered products, including embroidered panels, aprons, dishtowels, placemats and stuffed animals.”