NDEBELE ART: WOMEN AND THEIR ART
The Media Guild / Open University. 1992. Directed by Meg Sheffield
USES: Issues in Women's Studies
Views of Southern Transvaal (now Gauteng) Ndebele settlements accompanied with narrative background to the economy and history of the area; examples of the maintenance of `traditional culture'. Traditional housing design and decoration of domestic space; Professor Maya Angelau discusses art as an "expression of spirit". Explanation of materials and techniques follows. Incorporation of modern technology into Ndebele painting and motifs; examples of `traditional' and `modern' practices within one household.
An interview with artist, Francina Ndimande, and views of her painting designs. Ndimande and Angelau painting a mural on the outside of Ndimande's house; Angelau comments on art as a way of informing children about social values. She provides other explanations of the shapes in terms of beauty. Angelou speaks about dance and singing - about the need to create beauty that people need - the Ndebele create it on the spot.
Views of Francine's designs commissioned for the local Catholic Church. Another accomplished artist, Esther Mahlangu, discusses her designs and her use of designs based on shapes of razor blades. A celebration for Angelina, welcoming her home from an excursion; men's dance chorus as part of the celebration.
The family of Francina becomes a focus; they have travelled abroad on commission. Coming home party, ceremonial dancing, male choir; the party is for community recognition of the artist and her work.
The video mentions the problems of displacement; and that the mix between colonialism and apartheid, religions and migration, as well technology, has left behind mixed sets of practices and beliefs. Houses are still traditional - mud and framework of sticks; compounds, decorations - all of which remains `womens' work'. Dr Maya Angelou interprets the temporary nature of the paintings. Gender issues predominate, but it is not clear what evidence the expert is basing these on. These issues do not appear to link much to the Ndebele women in question. Angelau has nothing specific to say about Ndebele art, but talks in general terms about the values of sharing, fair play, natural values, beauty as function, etc
Is this site of Nzamande's a tourist attraction? Not many compounds are as attractive or complete as the one in which the film is set. Ndebele art tends to be random and scattered throughout the countryside.
The shapes tend to be western, with references from road signs, cities, factories, steps etc. Not all these are identified by the narrator, but the painters tell of their travels to Johannesburg, and the remaking of the square and triangular shapes, ornamental iron work, seen there.
Ndebele Art is a useful film but should be read alongside information on cultural context and books on Ndebele art. The video needs a greater sense of women's lives in the area and what they normally do other than just painting in what appears to be an idyllic environment in which the men free them to paint, decorate, and have fun.
(Written by Keyan Tomaselli and MSU evaluators, 1997)