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."