When people think of African craft they tend to imagine the type of goods that you find for sale along the Durban beachfront, and while the work that those traders produce is phenomenal, much of it hasn’t kept up to date with contemporary tastes. Professor Kate Wells, recipient of a 2016 eThekwini Living Legends award, took it as her mission to develop the skills of the men and women producing traditional craft in South Africa, so that they could produce saleable goods for both the local and international market – goods that were of such outstanding quality that they could command relatively high prices, and provide a liveable wage for the crafters.
Over the years Wells has established relationships with local organisations like the African Art Centre and the Durban University of Technology, who are currently involved in the running of the Siyazama Project, as well as international partners, such as FRONT, a Swedish design group that collaborated with Siyazama on their now famous Story Vases. Other design pieces produced in conjunction with the Siyazama crafters include the beautiful ribbon necklaces, the innovative Colour Cups, which transform ordinary light bulbs into works of arts, and the iconic Siyazama dolls, which have become a symbol of the fight against HIV/Aids.
Many of the pieces produced by Siyazama are made for the export market, and as such are a bit on the expensive side for local shoppers, but their dolls are available for sale at home, and Wells has also been involved in the writing of a book, Siyazama, Art Aids Education in South Africa, which is available at Exclusive Books or via South African online shops such as takealotcom. Unfortunately the African Art Centre doesn’t currently have any Siyazama pieces in stock, but they do have a wonderful assortment of other contemporary crafts for sale as part of their African Christmas exhibition, so that too is well worth a visit if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary for your Christmas stockings this year!
This year let’s try to make an effort to support incredible innovators like Kate Wells, and the amazing work that our local artists produce, instead of adding to the mounds of made-in-china plastic goods that so often land up underneath our Christmas trees!