Johannesburg Art Gallery
South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Olievenhuis Museum, Bloemfontein
Lead curator and project manager with Natalie Knight and Billy Makhubele
Editor and contributor to the catalogue
View of installation at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
This major exhibition showcased the art of the ‘Tsonga’ (Vatsonga) and ‘Shangaan’ (Machangani) – some of South Africa’s most vibrant heritage. Settled largely in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province, many Tsonga-speakers lived in small, dispersed communities through much of the nineteenth century. Others however, became part of the Gaza Nguni Empire established in Mozambique in the early nineteenth century by Shoshangane an Ndwandwe general. In the twentieth century, Tsonga and Shangaan people mobilised in difficult political, economic and social circumstances to forge distinct artistic styles and cultures.
There is no consensus on the correctness and use of the terms Tsonga and Shangaan. While some embrace a Shangaan identity, others prefer to assert a Tsonga heritage. The exhibition acknowledged these complexities through the inclusion of diverse viewpoints in the two DVD interviews – one with artist and co-curator Billy Makhubele who is proudly Shangaan and the other with poet Vonani Bila who prefers to be aligned with a Tsonga heritage.
A particular focus of this exhibition and its accompanying catalogue was the Makhubele family who used their cultural heritage to create new and exciting art forms, including adaptations of traditional minceka (beaded textiles) that women continue to wear to this day. These have become pictures in their own right, fashioned from beads, and sought by galleries and collectors for their political and social relevance as well as their fine artistic qualities.
The exhibition was divided into four sections: historic wood carving section with headrests, staffs, figures, spoons and snuff containers; the spectacular attire and equipment of traditional healers; the innovative beading traditions of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and contemporary wood carving from the region.