Hlungwani’s sculptural altar ensemble makes for fascinating analysis. These sculptures were functional in that they served as iconography in his ‘church’ just like sculpture would in classical Roman cathedrals. They were invested in meanings and served the purpose of creating an ambience similar to that of holy lands. When these works are taken out of their rural context and placed in an urban and gallery/museum space, the works become installation in the way it is curated, with the stones at the bottom and the altar hanging from the ceiling, as can be currently seen at the
Noria Mabasa, in works like The floods and Carnage II, showed this notion of sculpture not being dependent on environment or gender, but relying on the artist’s skill and influence. She used her traditional bases to create works that are meaningful to her community. In Losha Woman, she sculpted a woman who is lying on her side as a traditional way of greeting elders. To ‘losha’ is to greet in Tsonga and Sepedi. This woman has beads embellishing her body. This work is highly aesthetic and representational of a people. Her immediate community can relate to this work from the title, the pose of the woman and her attire. Carnage II also makes sense to her community because she makes depictions of the floods that wrecked
Johannes Maswanganye’s Nyamisoro dolls made a big impact on the art scence. These are sculptures made in the form of a kneeling person and have the body as a container and the head as a stopper. Maswanganye was commissioned by a sangoma from
Through the works discussed above, we can see that these artists created works that were functional to themselves and a larger community. These works were invested with meaning and captured the essence of that particular meaning. Hlungwani’s religious sculptures reflected his strong views and belief in religion, at the same time creating visual cues for his ‘church’ and congregation. They created a sense of a holy site in his community. At the same time the same works are preserved as installations in a contemporary context. Mabasa and Maswanganye used their traditional bases to put their communities on the map. They expressed their own sense of modernity in their art’s aesthetical values. Through sculpting all these artists used traditional materials to execute their skills, whether innate or taught. Ultimately these artists are artists, rural, contemporary or not; and they have skills, influences and material to execute their art. Whether their art is transitional or not is besides the case, it is the artistic merit and aesthetics that should be critiqued.
- Kasfir, S.L. African Arts. 1992