What is Craft Art?

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Charting the ‘blurring’ lines of craft, art

Craft Art in South Africa: Creative Intersections by Elbé Coetzee (Jonathan Ball, R450)

Craft can be something of a conundrum in the local art scene. Author Elbé Coetsee has just launched her second book covering the riches of this spectacular art form. Diane de Beer comments on the book and poses the author some questions:

What was different this time about the craft scene? One of the main differences, and hence the name of book, is the “evolution”, (as illustrated by the works included in the book) to increase the blurring of lines that distinguish between art and craft. Craft art embraces the conceptuality of art as well as the physicality of craftsmanship. The sub-title, Creative Intersections, refers to this crossing or blurring of lines.

What changed in more than a decade since the first book was launched? Many aspects but, important for me was the increase in the blurring of lines, distinguishing what is art and what is defined as craft.

What surprised you most? The incredible ingenuity of ‘intelligent’ hands. In the preface, Willem Boshoff so aptly refers to ithis as ‘the wisdom of the hand’ or ‘wise hands’.

Examples abound in the book, the life-size theatre puppet, Joey, created by the Handspring Puppet Company, the beaded panels of Ubuhle, the textile art created by Celia de Villiers and Gina Niederhumer, Keiskamma tapestries, the ceramics of Ruan Hoffmann, Margy Malan, Wilma Cruise, Ceramic Matters, the Magpie chandeliers, the skulls carved by Friday Jibu and I can continue.

Are these artists more appreciated and regarded than when you wrote your first book? Yes, I believe there is a growing awareness and appreciation of artists who prefer to create works using other materials than paint and canvas, paper and pastels, or charcoal.

How much is the craft market here influenced by trends and market trends? There is, in my view, an increased influence by both local and international market trends.

The current South African craft art market features contemporary design, Beauty Maswanganyi’s jewellery is included in haute couture fashion shows. Beauty Ngxongo’s baskets, Lisa Firer and Mervyn Ger’s ceramics are exhibited at shops in cities around the world, the ceramics of Ian Garret, Ruhan Hoffman, Wilma Cruise, Evette Weyers are included in international exhibitions. There are many more examples.

What is distinct about the craft market in South Africa? Africa has always embraced the conceptuality of art as well as the physicality of craftsmanship. This is obvious in most of the works included and a distinctive characteristic of South African craft art – the Mogalakwena embroideries document contemporary oral culture in their embroidered panels, the spirit of Africa and Christianity is so beautifully captured in the woodcarvings of Johannes Segogela, the textiles created by Jane Solomon express and communicate social, cultural and ideological values of our country.

Are we obviously from the African continent? Yes, the materials, techniques, colours, and patterns of South African craft art portray the soul of our continent.

What attracts you to craft in this country? The very tactile quality, the imperfections and uniqueness of works created by hand intrigue me, the works that reflect our country’s rich and diverse culture.

If someone is interested, how do they go about exploring South Africa’s craft market? An easy guide is to read the book for information on the craft artists, their work, shops and galleries where they showcase and exhibit their work. This book is my tribute to artists, collectors and retailers who have played a pivotal role in the enhancement of craft art in South Africa. It also pays homage to the 21 craft artists featured in the 2002 publication of Craft Art in South Africa, who have passed on.

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