Local Joburg art

An array of beaded decorative items on display.

US hip-hop sensation Mos Def once said, “African art is functional. It serves a purpose. It’s not dormant. It’s not a means to collect the largest cheering section. It should provide a healing, a source, a joy. Spreading positive vibrations.”

His sentiments are captured in the informal art and crafts scene in the Inner City’s Smit Street, next to Park Station, all the way down to the bustling flea market in Bruma. A number of men and women have made it their business to continue an ancient tradition that tourists like Mos Def have come to appreciate.

Miniature wooden animal sculptures on display in all their glory.

“Tourists choose instead to buy these handcrafted works of art as souvenirs rather than Chinese antiques,” said Brighton, who did not want his surname published.

Brighton, who has been making African decorative art for the past 10 years, exhibits his handiwork in Bruma’s Ernest Oppenheimer Avenue. “Tourists who visit the Kruger National Park make pit stops here to acquire imitations of animals they saw there, such as the Big Five.”

The art pieces are about more than tourism’s commercial appeal, according to Promise Machirere. He is one of the many craftsmen who can be seen almost every day painstakingly sculpting miniature wild animals, carving wood with chisels to make food bowls, and stitching together and fastening household items such as key holders.

Roses are crafted to coincide with Valentine’s Day.

“We make things according to the season. If it is Christmas we create Christmas decorations, and if it is Easter we make Easter eggs. For Valentine’s Day we make things like roses,” Machirere said.

“We go to different parts of South Africa to exhibit and sell our work. But what we would really like is some help with getting a market from where we can work neatly and in peace.”

Ntombentle Chivanga, who produces intricate cultural ornaments, has been making daily trips to the city centre from Regents Park to sell her beadwork, a skill she was taught by her mother years ago. “I make belts, earrings, neck pieces and a number of other functional items for children and adults,” she said.

“Heritage Day is when I attract the most customers. I really enjoy creating these items and hope that those who do buy enjoy them in the same way.”

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Tshepiso Mametela

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