|A FIRST SYNTHESIS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL, BIOLOGICAL & CULTURAL ASSETS OF THE SOUTPANSBERG|
A presentation of the cultural assets of the Soutpansberg could be divided into two separate but also related and complementary categories, namely LIVING CULTURE and ARCHAEOLOGY. The first one includes different kinds of interesting knowledge and practices shared and actively practiced by the inhabitants of the region, such as healing and initiation. Some of the better documented aspects in the region relate to creative culture: pottery, woodcarving, dance, orature, music and dance, both ‘traditional’ and contemporary. Archaeological data refer to the remnants of past cultural knowledge and practices (artefacts, sites, shelters, monuments).
The Soutpansberg is the ‘traditional home’ of many Venda speakers in South Africa. The name was used by settlers as reference to a magisterial district comprising the majority of the ‘Venda tribes’. There is ample anthropological and archaeological evidence for the existence of a pre-colonial regional culture including the Soutpansberg into a wider territory stretching from Botswana, over the Limpopo and southern Zimbabwe into Mocambique.
Details of author’s data sources/database
Contemporary sculpture from Venda is produced by thirty odd artists. My introduction to the fraternity of woodcarvers dates back to 1987 and my interaction reached its peak between 1992-97 when I facilitated a number of workshops and exhibitions for outside sponsors. I used informal interview data, photo’s and video material for a doctoral project.
Importance of the component:
The Venda artists were ‘discovered’ by the art market in 1985 and ‘developed’ by some energetic souls within the Venda Development Corporation in the second half of the eighties. Art works from this area have been exhibited in major national and international events (Venice Biennale; Vita awards; Oxford Museum of Modern Art; Stockholm’s Kulturhuset; Berlin’s House of World Cultures etc.).
I have grouped members of the collective of Venda woodcarvers for convenience sake into four subgroupings: the Central (Muledane; Tshakhuma); Western (Nzhelele); Northern (Mutale) and Southern (Elim-Giyani) clusters. There were in the late eighties literally hundreds of woodcarvers (of curio and traditional-functional items). I know thirty odd carvers who produce figurative pieces. The tradition of woodcarving obviously predates the ‘discovery’ of Noria Mabasa, Jackson Hlungwani and others in the mid eighties. Its promotion by the national and international art world, on the other hand, has ‘created’ (or at least boosted) a novel tradition of contemporary sculpture.
Major studies and publications
The traditional woodcarving has been the subject of a doctoral thesis by Prof. A. Nettleton (Wits). Duncan (MA Wits) has clarified the success of Venda sculpture in the local art market. My own doctoral project is, at present, the only attempt at a comprehensive study of the collective of Venda woodcarvers. The same artists have been included in a variety of monographs, catalogues on South African art. These contributions, I feel, have been both superficial and ideologically biased. They are covered in the literature review and bibliography of my thesis.
Recommendations for priority studies required to fill any gaps identified:
Excellent contributions have been made in three aspects of the field of creative culture, which at the time of investigation were found to be of special interest (compared with other cultural areas in South Africa):
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