The sangomas and weavers of Du Noon

An exhibition of photos captures the daily lived realities of the talented women collaborating with Pichulik and Design Afrika on a new range of bags.

Eunice Magwa (below) weaves large, pendulous Xhosa gourds for Design Afrika that are sold in emporiums of design around the world. She is a member of the Du Noon Urban Weavers, the first group of traditional weavers in an urban environment to organise themselves into a group aimed at preserving and growing their skills as well as generating an income for members.

But Magwa is not only a weaver whose work in the group has earned her some prominence in the dusty informal settlement of Du Noon; she is also a sangoma (traditional healer), as are a number of the other Du Noon weavers.
This is what initially inspired young Italian photographer Tomaso Fiscaletti to create a documentary photo series of the women, Between Home and Wisdom. His photographs look at the challenges they face balancing their spiritual vocation with their day-to-day township life.
Largely unknown outside their community, the sangomas and other members of Du Noon are a powerful presence at home. They have been working with Design Africa’s founder, Binky Newman, on various product development initiatives over the past couple of years.
Its latest incarnation involves Katherine-Mary Pichulik, whose eclectic rope jewellery and accessories very quickly conquered the local design world and have caught the eye of fashion buyers overseas. During a three-way collaborative weaving workshop, they worked on woven bags by marrying traditional Xhosa twining techniques and PICHULIK’s signature rope detailing.
It grew into a photography project when Fiscaletti joined Newman and Pichulik on a trip to Du Noon and met the sangomas as they went about their daily tasks. His images depict the robustness of Xhosa traditions amid the harshness of life in overcrowded shanties, show the different generations of women weavers and hint at their frustrations and strong spirit.
Between Home and Wisdom was made possible by crowd-funding. A percentage of sales of prints during the exhibition will be donated to the weavers, with each one receiving a print of her photograph. On an ongoing basis, they will further receive a percentage of the selling price of the baskets sold by Design Afrika as well as being paid for each basket produced.

Between Home and Wisdom is on show at Harrington House in Cape Town until 30 May 2015. The gallery will be open from 11am to 3pm on Tuesdays to Fridays and from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays. Viewing is by appointment; call 060 676 7254.

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