Monday, September 21, 2009

Beauty Nxgongo: The art of contemporary South African basket weaving

Beauty Nxgongo is a South African basket weaver nationally known for her distinctive baskets with vibrant designs. Though strongly rooted in the weaving tradition of southern Africa, Nxgongo's work is created for art's sake and praised for its aesthetic excellence.
The work pictured above exemplifies her oeuvre, in which elegant structural forms are enhanced by complex and masterful graphic and chromatic designs. The toplike form of this basket tapers at the summit and the base, and is rounded at the sides. A woven graphic motif of undulating zigzags covers the entire surface. The various colors were all obtained from natural sources. For example, black or very dark fibers were produced by boiling the ilala palms with the indigo plant, while reddened sorghum leaves were used to produce fibers with a reddish brown color. Nxgongo's work is represented in all the major South African museums, including the South African National Gallery in Cape Town.

Traditionally, Zulu baskets were made for the storage of food and beer. The narrow opening and lid minimizes spillage as the tight weave of the basket made it virtually waterproof.
This lidded basket is an outstanding example of an important form of expression from South Africa's rural Kwazulu-Natal region. Grasses and grasslike plants are readily available natural resources in the Kwazulu-Natal region that the Zulu have incorporated into many domestic artifacts, including floor mats, spoon holders, and various kinds of baskets such as this example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection.

Originally the exclusive domain of men, within Zulu culture the responsibility for making baskets shifted to women. In contemporary Zulu society, women weave the utilitarian baskets, while masters such as Beauty Nxgongo and Reuben Ndwandwe challenge and expand the tradition's boundaries and create art for art's sake.

(Adapted from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art -

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