It all began when the first artists carved a rough likeness in stone and painted a shaman’s trance on rocky canvas. For the artists of the Ribola Art Route, their sculptures speak of times gone by and those still unwritten, of traditions held in the shape of the wood, the rhythm of a drum and the mouth of a pot. In the words of an artist, worlds apart, Edgar Degas, It is not about what they see but what they make others see.
The father of the Ribola Art Route, Jackson Hlungwani, inspired a passion for carving culture into wood in the next generation. His dreams still pulse through their veins. He spoke of connection, of the inner journey and the collective consciousness. This journey continues with these artists.
Ribola is an area rich with talent, and the artists and sculptors of the Route find inspiration in the creatures around them as well as the beasts of mythology, the heroes of the bible and the ordinary people from their own village. More than the inspiration for these works of art, however, it is the enthusiasm of the artists themselves which makes the experience come alive.
David Murathi was inspired by his uncle, the famous woodcarver Churchill Madzivhandila to listen to his dreams and ancestoral spirits. David carves sculptures straight from his culture … traditions, myths and legends woven with modern themes and contexts. The beauty of a curved cheek, a downcast eye, a child tucked in the crook of an arm… his skill allows the wood to speak and his functional art, wooden hooks and towel rails are mini works of art.
Artist, Traditional Healer, Counsellor and Cultural Leader, David Murathi captures the real emotions and understanding of his context in his sculptures. His resonant voice and compassionate eyes see through the artifice and draw you closer. ‘I see you’, his heart whispers. David connects deeply to his culture…the traditions, the myths, the symbols of the ancients weaving their way through a modern community. A woman, her skin a shining yellowwood, bows her head respectfully and offers a pot of traditional beer to an unseen husband or uncle. Another bends into the rhythm of the Domba Dance, becoming the ribs of the python as her carved feet carry her forward. David’s sculptures beckon you to their side to tell their story, to pass on the secrets, to enrich your understanding of the deep and ancient cultural rhythms of Venda. David is a leader, a mentor to many artists on the routes and is renowned for exhibitions locally and abroad.
Amorous Maswanganye has a big smile to match his generous heart. This talented young artist captures in wood, the cultural issues erupting from the space where modern and traditional South Africa meet. A social commentator in corkwood and paint….quirky and whimsical, playful and hopeful. Amorous, a youthful observer of life in all its tumult and turbulence, beauty and bafflement, carries the stories of teenage pregnancy and youthful crimes into the wood. A colourful, quirky vessel for his message, his characters have a voice, a personality, a presence. The Businessman in suit, tie and village-made Shangaan tyre-sandals waits for a taxi alongside a lady in full traditional Tsonga dress and takkies talking loudly into her cell phone …… and then there is the rat race – those chasing money in the city of gold. Amorous, through his innocent eyes, has become a voice for his generation and a commentator on the world that shaped them.
Since the age of 25, Amorous has learnt his craft from his father, the world-renowned Sculptor, Johannes Maswanganyi and his equally famous brother, Collen, who have both exhibited locally and overseas. Amorous was the only artist selected to display his art on the tables at the 2016 Arts and Culture Trust Awards Ceremony in 2016, and his first sale was to the icon, Albie Sachs. He is one of a handful of artists countrywide to be selected for the prestigious JP Morgan Abadali Art Programme in 2018 and has been commissioned to create unique pieces for their collection. Amorous’s commentary on the existential concepts of consumerism and the human condition transcends his context. He has an insight way past his rural upbringing and limited experience … a young artist with a vision of a new South Africa.
Thomas Kubayi is a motivated man – he eats, sleeps and dreams the creative arts. Not only does he create beautiful wooden sculptures himself, some of which have found homes as far afield as America, Switzerland and France, but he has trained and supported more than 60 students and apprentices in the arts. Inspired by his dreams for the future of the youth and traditional craftsmanship, he built and developed a school for the arts in Tshivhuni village, near Elim in the Limpopo Province. The Vhutsila Art Centre was created so that the young people of the village would not lose the knowledge base to create clay work, wooden sculptures, musical instruments, traditionally-built furniture and bead-work – an opportunity to uplift the younger generation and the art industry in South Africa.
Trained by the father of art, Jackson Hlungwane, Thomas Kubayi was inspired by Jackson Hlungwane to start listening to the wood. He allows the wood to talk and show him what is hidden inside. He says, “When I carve it, Wild Teak has a certain sound – it is like a drum, with deep echoes, while Leadwood’s sound is tight. It comes from your heart; you can’t explain it. When I create a sculpture, I am writing a song, not in music but using my hands. I am inspired by traditions of old and events happening around me. Watching the developments in Zimbabwe all those years ago, I created the Crying Drum but humans are resilient – I have recently done a portrait of a mother and child, facing the world together. Fish and mermaids are an important symbol of change and potential in our culture, so I carve sculptures and benches exploring the fluid form of the universe. My sculpture of Nelson Mandela in heaven shows what he must be feeling about his country. I also love to explore the human form and emotions in my work.” Thomas Kubayi recently recovered from a life-threatening illness thanks to medical assistance and support from the art community around the world. He is fully recovered and more inspired than ever to make a meaningful impact through his art.
Pilato Bulala is going places…. Literally! Whether it is in the third Model of his VW Scrap-car which runs on a chainsaw engine and bicycle wheels, or one day when he can get his polka dot flying-machine to take to the air. This 22-year-old living in Tshivhuyuni village on the Ribola Art Route, started working with scrap at the age of 18. Mentored by Thomas Kubayi, this inventor-designer-artist is passionate and focused… his art is his heart.
Pilato is a young inventor-artist who finds a unique and quirky use for the things we throw away. He is playful… delighted to explore a creative collaboration with his material … to experience the joy of invention through this unique love story. Pilato has an eye for a sexy spanner or a zany piece of zinc. He discovers a mystical bird in pistons, cutlery and bicycle chains and his imagination sees a traditional lady in a crank-shaft. This young man, filled with passion and creativity, makes scraptures, purple polka-dot flying machines and beautiful delicate jewellery made from tin cans. He creates, he shapes, he makes steel sing. Shifting from using the fury-force of a panga to cut holes for windows in his VW car, he slowly learnt a skilful dance, the debonair partner of whirring wheels and spinning spanners. The power of Pilato’s imagination coaxes collaboration from iron and steel, transforming in his hands to something mythical and magical.
Kenneth Nonyana connects to the inner dialogues we all have – to our most hidden truths. Kenny’s characters, carved in wood, are achingly real and their inner turmoil is etched into their faces. Bumps, boils, humps and wounds are imperfections reflected on the body, not hidden below a smooth and shiny wooden skin. Kenneth’s work is raw and honest – he connects to the deepest feelings of pain and rejection… of not having a place in society. And the grind of life is reflected in his technique of filling in gaps with glue and wood-filings – he leaves the finish rough and raw, an unrefined surface. Life may be a struggle, but Kenneth’s characters stand tall, they are survivors, just like their artist-creator.
Kenneth was taught by the renowned sculptor, Thomas Kubayi, who, in turn learned his craft at the feet of Jackson Hlungwani. When Thomas was ill, Kenny took over the Vutsila Art School and Gallery as well as the Indigenous Music Group, playing for lodges and events in the area. His art has grown as he has, becoming a reflection of the deep emotions playing out in his 26-year old heart. His sculptures cry out, they call you closer and make you recognise the struggles, the darkness, as well as the radiant hope for the future.
Sculptor, Patrick Manyike is a passionate man when it comes to his art and the inspiration behind it. He allows the wood to tell its own tale, patiently waiting for the story to emerge beneath his hands. He built his home on the hill above two rivers where his sculptures swim through the blue skies above Tshivhuyuni village. His work reflects the symbology of the ancients, the myths that were told to his great-grandfather… the songs of his ancestors. He says, “I was taught by Thomas Kubayi who was taught by the late, great Jackson Hlungwane and I will carry on that legacy with the students I now teach. Teaching is not just watching someone else. It is listening to the wood, your dreams at night, the pictures that come into your mind when you are working in the fields. Artists are born with something in their heart, which speaks to them at all times. I help them listen to that voice. We make our own tools from old knives and bicycle parts. You have got to be creative with every step of the process of learning to carve. My students come from all over the village to learn from me and the other artists on the Ribola Art Route. It is important to carry on this knowledge from generation to generation.”
“I go and search for the dead wood and bring it back to life. When I am carving, my mind, soul and body function in harmony to communicate with the wood until I can see the story hidden inside. I was doing a mindless job in Johannesburg and my heart called me back to follow my calling. Now tourists visit and motivate me with their interest in my work. I am inspired to tell the stories of the myths of my people, of Dzundzu and the Fisherman and the everyday stories that stay in the world to be told again. Every piece of art has a story behind it. By looking at my artwork, you can see where we come from and what God is expecting us to do with our lives. We learn from the Bible, from nature and from each other in our daily lives. The fish is a symbol of life and change, so many of the sculptures, benches, bowls or mbila are in the shape of a fish. I also hear the stories from my grandmother and make them come alive, and the myths that are told around the fire, to the beat of the father drum.” He is building a gallery as beautiful as his outdoor one, where his world in wood can whisper their secrets to visitors. He plants trees to replace the dead wood he has used; his vegetable garden feeds the community and those young hearts he inspires to carve, come closer to their culture day by day.
These multi-talented artists have stepped into their power – they have become leaders, teachers of young people and skilful sculptors. They are hungry for connection, for collaboration and for experiences that will shape them as surely as they have shaped the surfaces of wood into the common stories of humanity
Acting as an online hub, Love Limpopo celebrates the authentic African art, quality crafts and travel experiences found only in Limpopo, inspiring new ways of connection to the most incredible province in South Africa. Some of South Africa’s most renowned artists live and work on the Ribola Art Route, and this exhibition is your opportunity to connect to their incredible art.
Love Limpopo is a celebration of the true spirit of the Limpopo Province, reflecting the beauty of its people, landscapes, heritage, art and culture. We want you to fall in love with Limpopo, to share in her secrets, explore her wild, open spaces and her endless starry skies. We have travelled to every corner, explored the most hidden places in Limpopo, we have walked up to lions, felt the pulse of a 2000-year-old tree, walked in the footsteps of the San and heard the deep and ancient rhythms of Limpopo in the footsteps of everyone we have met along the road less travelled. We listened to the storytellers and connected to the tales told through African art.
We want to share this journey and experience with you. It has immeasurably enriched our lives and tuned us in to the rhythm that connects us all. I am because you are. Come closer, Love Limpopo.
Love Limpopo: 082 200 4596 / 079 582 1023 / firstname.lastname@example.org