Where craft and art meet

Elbé Coetsee's new book, "Craft Art in South Africa", is a beautifully illustrated journey through the tactile possibilities of handmade work.

Elbé Coetsee’s new book, Craft Art in South Africa: Creative Intersections, celebrates the resilience and richness of craft in South Africa in the face of a multitude of factors that could have conspired against it: the global economic downturn and our country’s own problems with crime, corruption and unemployment.

Since 2003, when she published her first book on the subject, there are even more local artists pushing the boundaries of traditional handmade techniques to create tactile, once-off works that hold their own in any gallery in the world.

There are 65 artists and projects featured in the book, organised according to the materials they work with: baskets, beads, ceramics, fibres and fabrics, glass, metal and wire, recycling, wood and cane. There are the prolific, well-publicised producers such as Clementina van der Walt, Monkeybiz and Hylton Nel. But there are also some less prominent makers with distinctive and fresh aesthetics: Fahmeeda Omar, who makes tiny porcelain vessels, some only two-and-a-half centimetres high; Durban-based Sibusiso Duma, whose pointillist painted scenes on ceramic plates celebrate Zulu culture; and puppet-maker Hillette Stapelberg, who is also an accomplished costume designer.

To page through this exquisite book, illustrated with photographs shot by Jac de Villiers and styled by Liane Visser, is to fall in love once again with the breadth and skill of traditional and contemporary craft made in this country.

Coetsee might be a scholar (with a doctorate to her name), but she is motivated by a tangible and ardent passion for craft art and it’s potential as a social and economic lever. She has championed the field as a whole in South Africa, and founded the Mogalakwena Craft Art Development Foundation in 1994 as a sustainable development programme for previously disadvantaged craft artists.

Read our Q&A with author Elbé Coetsee here.

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