5 June 2020


“Culture is not only a heritage. It is a project”.

Benin philosopher, Paulin Hontongji

This issue heralds a new generation of Africans who are seeking to recover their culture in a way that is fresh and relevant to their lives. The core is a group of graduates from the jewellery department of the University of Johannesburg, led by Farieda Nazer, which has seen the emergence of the African Contemporary Jewellery Association. The concept of “umswenko” comes from their involvement a Joburg scene which is stylish and inventive, which contrasts so much with outside perceptions of the city forged during Apartheid.

Khanya Mthethwa’s re-design of the isifociya girdle reflects other forms of revival found during our journey across the wider world today. The concept of Urgent Adornment from Beverley Price helps us understand a Joburg aesthetic oriented around the street. The Delicate Bracelet is an example of a successful product that has emerged from this foraging. Other responses can be found in Taryn Sadé Joseph’s translation of the coloured aesthetic of Ordentelikheid into jewellery, Mbuso Oscar Zondi development of new Zulu jewellery through beading and Hlengiwe Dube’s baskets inspired by Zulu earplugs.

The forging of a new South Africa has left the world with a precious legacy in the concept of ubuntu. Originally associated with ancestor worship, it evolved in the freedom struggle to become a form of resistance based on a commitment to a common humanity, influenced by Gandhi’s satyagraha movement in India (developed while he lived in South Africa). Jenan Taylor’s quarterly essay involves her own journey back to her homeland in southern Africa to understand the source of Moffat Takadiwa’s dazzling tapestries in the art of small things. ‘Matsooana Sekokotoana writes as a Lesotho artist who draws on her culture’s litema designs in making ceramics. Joani Groenewald and Lara Landsberg used jewellery to reflect on their own attachment to place in South Africa. And from Nigeria, we feature artists in the [Re:]Entanglements project, which drew on the legacy of colonial anthropologies as inspiration for textile art. Ngozi Omeje shares a series of ceramic works pregnant with meaning for family, culture and nature.

The concept of fetish was a way of demeaning the role played by objects in African colonial territories. There are stories in this issue that reveal their energy today. Gary Warner begins a series for this issue on instrument making with a profile of the mesmerising Fulu Muziki from the Congo. Claire Dale shares her extraordinary entre into Ghanaian culture with a story about their language stick. We see another side of Ghana with the funerary fans that are part of the dazzling work of Baba Tree. Joseph Ndione mourns the demise of Simb, the fake lion dance in Senegal. Rebecca Hoyes writes about the beautiful uses of mud dyes in Mali. And Passent Nossair provides two articles about the legacy of metal and textile crafts in Egypt.

African culture extends beyond the continent, of course. We have several stories about the flourishing of cultures from the horn of Africa on the other side of the world. Jude Anderson’s Kultur-All Makaan features the Sudanese artists and performer Debora Dout. The Somali Muhubo Suleiman preserves the heritage of aqal architecture in her Melbourne flat. And Nyibol Deng draws on the African diaspora in central Victoria to design new accessories. Continuing our interest in craft travels, Stephanie Brookes shows the kind of experience available for foreign visitors found in the Tanzanian boma. And Ansie van der Walt offers us a glimpse of the innovative African fashion that will be profiled in the new Africa Fashion Week for Dubai.

Many thanks to the dedicated thinkers and makers who have shared their stories. Special gratitude to Farieda Nazer and the impressive network of artists who have such a commitment to their own culture.

umswenko continues the ongoing fascination about African culture. This often has an exotic flavour, such as the Afro-Futurism of Black Panther. This issue doesn’t claim to be a definitive picture of the real Africa. It’s too easy to make patronising statements. We welcome critical discussion about the stereotypes that are inevitably found here. The aim is to keep our eyes open and welcome the cultural values found in the continent. Their value extends beyond Africa.

This issue occurs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have been in lockdown for several months now. During the course of this issue, some of us will be re-emerging from our domestic bunkers into public spaces. We’ll have to change our track pants for something more respectable, even stylish. The street is a theatre in which are all actors, playing our part, in costume. This issue has many stories that can help re-kindle our enjoyment of this experience of being with others, in the public. umswenko.

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