Remarks by the Minister Lulu Xingwana at the opening of the Pace 2010 Pan African Craft Exhibition Sandton, Johannesburg

Send by emailPDF version
21 Jun 2010

Programme Director
MEC for Economic Development in Gauteng, Mr. Firoz Cachalia,
Curators Adam Levin & Andile Magengelele
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It gives me great pleasure to address you at this creative and exciting exhibition of craft-ware from different countries of Africa at the Gauteng Craft and Design Centre.

As we meet here today in Johannesburg to launch this Pan African Craft Exhibition, let us recall that it was 110 years ago that the roots were planted for a truly Pan African political and cultural movement and that today we are still nourished by the fruit from that tree planted more than a century ago.

For it was in 1900 that the first Pan African Congress spearheaded by the great and legendary W.E.B. Du Bois and Sylvester Williams was held in London. This important event sought to bring Africans together – those who resided on the African continent – and those in the African Diaspora – to seek unity and to fight collectively for the rights of Africans on the continent and all over the world.

This meeting discussed the African condition and was graced by intellectuals and luminaries from around the African world.

Three years later in the preamble to his important book “The Soul of Black Folk”, Du Bois declared that: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line.”

In this book he explored the achievements of Africans, their spiritual strivings, their sorrows and their struggle for emancipation. This was a milestone in African thinking and creativity.

A decade or so later the Garveyist Movement sprung into action with their rallying call that: “Africa is for Africans!”. Later on movements such as Ethiopianism would also emerge along the way.

Every decade that passed in the 20th century had its important milestone that took the quest for African unity further and took the world further in the struggle against racism and apartheid. It was also the youth uprising in June 1976 that helped to propel the struggle until indeed in 1994 we in South Africans also became the proud possessors of our own freedom. Through the help of our brothers and sisters on the continent and in the anti-apartheid movement in the world, we achieved our freedom, established a democracy and adopted a new constitution founded on the principles of non-racism and non-sexism.

It was here on South African soil that the new African Union had its founding meeting. We also chose to host the Pan African Parliament, an important institution of democracy on the African continent.

Last month on the 25th of May we commemorated the 43rd anniversary of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) when African leaders and representatives from organizations including PAWO (Pan African Women’s Organization) gathered in Addis Ababa  - as the great Kwame Nkrumah said “for the sake of Africa’s greater glory and infinite well-being.”

All of these milestones and important dates in our history are also significant because they were not simply the products of their times, but these were part of far-reaching cultural thinking that sought to centre Africa in the imagination of Africans. They were philosophical, spiritual, cultural, economic and social high points that continue to influence how we think and act on the African continent today.

Where would we be today without the Harlem Renaissance or the Negritude Movement? Where would we be today without the notion of an African culture, an African identity, an African personality and a People’s culture?

Where would we be without Frantz Fanon or Sekou Toure?

Where would our self-understanding of what it means to be a woman on the African continent be without Buchi Emecheta, Nadine Gordimer, Ama Ata Aidoo or Tsitsi Dangarembga?

In more recent times, where would we be without Nelson Mandela?

I think that all these movements, ways of thinking and being have had a profound impact on us even in the present and as we in Africa confront a rapidly changing world, so we too reflect and assert ourselves through our creativity – we continue to imagine and shape the African cultural landscape with our songs, our poetry, our fine art, our literature, our films, our multimedia, our design and our craft.

African artists are at the forefront of an intellectual movement that asserts a new Africa – through bold individual acts of creativity and collective changes in mindset and through cross-pollination we are taking firm steps into the second decade of the twenty first century.

This exhibition “Pace 2010” points out the new directions African crafters are moving towards and, in this way, creating pieces that speak to today’s world – the work is not replicated in the old curio mould of yesteryears, but rather the work seeks to present a new vision for the continent.

The curators sought out each of these new craft pieces which have a distinct international flavour as the crafters concentrate more on shape, texture and design.

These pieces are therefore appropriately featured in futuristic series of white pods as the curators heighten their contemporary value and challenge viewers of their vision of Africa.

I would like to highlight just a few of the work on exhibition:

  • There are craft pieces by well established artists such as Taslim Martin, Aboubakar Fofana and Cheik Diallo, whose works have been collected widely.
  • The piece by Taslim Martin, a British based Nigerian artist, is titled “The Secret Dovetail” which refers to traditional headrests used in African and Asian cultures to preserve elaborate hairstyles while sleeping.
  • Aboubakar Fofana, a master-dyer from Mali, is schooled in the ancient art of natural indigo dyeing. Yet he also studied the traditional Japanese “Shibori” from a master dyer in Kyoto. The result of his labour is limited edition designs on organic fabrics for interior décor and fashion.
  • Cheik Diallo, a Malian furniture designer, presents work that is inspired by the tradition of wrapping strips of plastic packaging tape around metal frames to create chairs for a harsh climate. Yet Diallo’s designs transports us to other worlds as they are somewhat whimsical which renders his pieces as much flights of fancy as they are functional. He has transformed his pieces into sculptural work.
  • A young Nigerian artist, Okechuku based in Lagos, creates immensely scaled jewelry pieces from bronze, wood, ceramic beads and objects. This is a unique work of art and is being exhibited for the first time on a platform of this stature.
  • In 2002, Ronel Jordaan, having been a textile designer for 26 years, began researching the possibilities of using felt as a creative medium. By patiently rubbing threads of pure wool into shapes in nature that inspire her, she found her direction and started a small home industry. She also trained women to help her. Through her felting processes, she has highlighted different textures and shapes – and the most recognizable of all her products are her pebbles and rocks.
  • Last but not least I would also like to draw attention to a woven Pouffe developed by the Khumbulani Craft in Kwazulu Natal.

There are many really exciting pieces that will hold your attention in this exhibition as you walk around.

The key is to be inventive and to look at the world with new eyes as indeed through our handiwork we add to the beauty and the functionality of that world.

This is a historic period for South Africa and indeed Africa as we host this truly African 2010 FIFA World Cup on this soil. It is a truly warming experience to see international visitors all around. This World Cup thus far shall be remembered not only for the vuvuzelas but for the surprising outcomes in recent matches.
And we also hope that visitors leave with a lasting impression of African art and craft and culture.

This cutting edge African Craft Exhibition is also intended to expose the thousands of international fans to the creativity abounding this continent. It serves to position Africa in its rightful place on the global design stage.

As the people of the world focus their attention on the football stadia of South Africa, so too we are asking them to experience the continent through the wealth of our craft – today we are drawing attention to activities off-field to showcase the rich and provocative art works of emerging African crafters who belong to the new century.

This African craft exhibition is as much about forms and shapes as it is about the ideas and meanings contained in these forms and shapes. It is as much about history as it is about the contemporary world. In the making of new forms, new ideas emerge that resonate with a wider world.

In this way form and content continue to work together to make meaning on the African continent and to offer us directions and open new pathways about how we should lead our lives.

In this way the new roads that emerge should ensure that the problems of the 20th century shall no longer be the problems of the 21st century.

Through this exhibition we witness the emergence of a truly vibrant Pan African voice that is being seen, felt and heard on the design stages of the world.

I declare the Pace 2010 Pan African Craft Exhibition open.

Let me conclude my reminding you that this event tonight is only the first phase of this project. In the weeks to come we shall share with you other milestones. We shall have more interactive sessions with the curators and invite artists to participate and crafters to demonstrate their work.

This is only a small beginning of a bigger project focus as part of our mandate of arts for all.

Thank you.