Ardmore Ceramic Art gives form to mythological Zulu creatures

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Ardmore will be exhibiting new work, inspired by African mythology, at the Ebony Art Gallery in Franschhoek from October 22. Photo: Supplied

MISCHIEVOUS, and sometimes malevolent, tokoloshes and tagati, are a part of Zulu mythology.

 

Now these creatures have been given a physical form by a group of young artists from Ardmore Ceramic Art’s Winter School for an exhibition, titled Tokkies and Tagies, which will be taking place at the Ebony Gallery in Franschhoek, from October 22.

The style used to create these new ceramics harks backs to the work of Ardmore’s legendary sculptor, Bonnie Ntshalinthshali.

Speaking about the exhibition, Ardmore founder, Fee Halsted, said: “Every June, Ardmore runs a Winter School in search of new talent and this year Pomotso Mafuka, from Lesotho, arrived at our door. His interesting storytelling sculptures remind us of Ardmore’s early works.”

Mafuka is the latest in a long line of Sotho artists to work at the arts collective in Caversham, KwaZulu-Natal. Josephine Ghesa, who joined Ardmore Ceramic Art in the early 1990s, earned fame for her artistic and powerful mythological figures.

Since then other talented Sotho artists have come down the mountains in search of creative work, including Bennet Zondo, Thabo Mbele and Tebogo Ndlovu.

Among the ceramics going to Cape Town is Mafuka’s Bull Champion, which features a bull holding a vulture.

“The bull is proud and stands on a hillock with his hand on his hip, proudly defying death, which is symbolised by a vulture,” says Halsted. “It could represent how Pomotso feels about how, with his talent, he has overcome poverty and walks tall amongst the Zulu men. Cattle are also important to Sotho and Zulu people as they indicate wealth.”

Another Mafuka work features a female leopard with her paws on her head. “It’s as if she fears she cannot provide for her cub, which is hanging off her back.  This could represent how women feel when their adolescent children can’t fend for themselves,” said Halsted.

New painters from the Winter School, Nhlanhla Zulu and Mthokizi Mkhize, have enjoyed painting the sculptures.

“It is interesting how school blazers and ties, trousers and jackets have been painted onto the figures. It seems that these young painters see themselves in these creatures … an animal is representative of themselves and the life experiences they have to face,” says Halsted.

Ardmore’s ‘Tokkies and Tagies’ exhibition can be viewed at Ebony art gallery in Franschhoek, as part of Art Franschhoek, which gets underway on the weekend of October 22 and 23. Inquiries: 021 876 4477.

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WHAT ARE TOKOLSHE AND TAGATI?

At its least harmful a tokoloshe can be used to scare children, but its power extends to causing illness or even the death of the victim.

The creature can be banished by a n’anga (witch doctor), and, according to legend, to keep a tokoloshe away at night, you need to put a brick beneath each leg of your bed.

A tagati, meanwhile, is a wizard, witch or spiteful person who operates in secret to harm others or who uses poisons and familiar spirits to carry out harmful deeds. The term was first recorded in 1836 and derives from the Zulu word umthakathi, which means someone who mixes medicine.

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