Our latest collection was hugely influenced by the painted buildings of the Ndebele. I found the angular shapes, composition and colour so enticing and the more I learned about the traditions and the origins the more compelled I felt making a range.
Below I have shared an article from Selvedge, the Fabric of Life. They have beautifully written the origins of the Ndebele describing how the patterns were used as a form of expression, visual identity and a way to secretly communicate amongst each other. It is very empowering, I liked the fact that it is the females who have used this form to hold onto their tradition.
"In the 1940s a remarkable visual renaissance began to take shape in South Africa. The Ndebele are a people of Nguni origin, living in the Highveld to the east of Pretoria. Before the Apartheid years, they lived in and amongst other ethnic groups and were in danger of losing their spoken language, Sotho-Tswana. This became the impetus for the Ndebele cultural renaissance.
The Ndebele minority were initially forced to work as indentured labourers at the turn of the last century. As a result they became labourers on Boer farms, before being moved onto the government grid at KwaNdebele. The housing format of the grid was a method of control and power, and culturally impactful as the Ndebele people traditionally lived in a formation that showed respect across position age and gender. The art form that emerged can therefore be understood as partly political protest, and partly as a way to give the scattered group’s language a visual identity.
At the time, it was the Ndebele women who stepped in to keep their culture alive. While unable to write, they possessed a highly articulate architectural and visual language. They understood lessons learned from the adornment of the body, and reapplied what they knew to architecture. Ndebele women used the female coming of age ceremony (known as ‘ugutombisa’) as a means of keeping their folklore and language alive. The ceremony was accompanied by decorating one’s home, and this led the Ndebele to develop their visual language across beadwork, mural painting, sculptural embellishment and formal gardens."
"Marriage symbolizes a significant rite of passage, particularly for the Ndebele woman. Once she is married, the new bride is responsible for decorating her home. She will use her free hand to create the images adorning the walls, typically drawing inspiration from the environment around her. The back of the house is painted in earthy colours, using charcoal, clay and ground ochre. The front, in comparison, is a vivid representation of the Ndebele wife’s creativity, with vibrant shades of yellow, blue, green and red.
The Ndebele people of South Africa and Zimbabwe are arguably one of Africa’s most distinctive and therefore easily recognisable tribes. With their unique geometrically patterned homes and garments of ornate beadwork, the Ndebele people are proving to be an endless source of inspiration for artists and designers around the world..." including Chalk.
85 year old Esther Mahlangu is one of South Africa’s pioneering artists, best known for her bold and bright geometric artwork, I discovered her via Pinterest and she led me to the works of the Ndebele. She was the first person to reimagine Ndebele designs on different platforms. She has been painting for 70 years now and has had a major impact globally.
Mahlangu learned to paint at the age of 10, taught by her mother and grandmother. She later turned to painting other objects and canvas, and used bright acrylic paints in place of muted, monochromatic traditional natural colours to create the most stunning forms.
Her pioneering use of the crafts of her Ndebele people has brought her huge success on the world’s art markets, shown and sold from Australia to New York, and she continues to travel and exhibit widely. Her work has been seen by millions of people on British Airways planes, vodka bottles and billboards.
Mahlangu returns frequently to her home in Mpumalanga where she has founded a school where girls and young women from the local community are taught to paint in the traditional way. She is a true inspiration.
CHALK - NDEBELE COLLECTION
I tend to name the pieces using names that originate where the collections have come from.
Themba in Ndebele means "trust and hope" something that we needed an abundance of during these strange times. I hope that wearing these pieces not only makes you look good but also makes you feel uplifted.
DISCOVER THE COLLECTION HERE: