2 February 2012 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Beautiful stuff: Avhashoni Mainganye

I have travelled around the world and discovered that Venda are similar to some British people and some Scottish people.

The centre isn’t easy to miss, located on the main road from Makhado to Punda Maria through Thohoyandou. From the outside, it looks a little neglected with a fence that has seen better days and lawns that, typical for the area, are green, lush and overgrown.

We are greeted by Joanna, who I think has the most beautiful smile of anyone I have ever met. It’s a smile that is as warm and welcoming as you can imagine. It’s also a wise smile, like Joanna knows something you don’t. She later tells us she is a trainee sangoma. Her Venda name is Khuhugwele – Forgiven – and she cautions us about the power of dreams and the dangers of angering the ancestors, before leaving us to wander around and look at the traditional Venda drums on sale, some impressive carvings (one of the Domba Dance that I thought was wonderful) and other art and crafts.

I see a dreadlocked man talking to a couple (who, as I discovered own a gallery, iZarte, in the Netherlands). It is Avhashoni Mainganye. He is an awesome artist and to bump into him by accident in Thohoyandou is an unexpected pleasure. While his art had already made an impression on me, this time it was the man himself who impressed me – articulate, passionate and so very, very humble.

Avhashoni leaves them for a minute, to say hello. We start talking. He has no interest in talking about himself, but can’t say enough or show me enough, of his students’ work which is being produced at the Thohoyandou Arts and Culture Centre. Here, as well as selling work from all over Venda, Avhashoni mentors and teaches young artists. “I love working with young people; etching, drawing, painting. I’d like to help promote up-and-coming young artists,” he enthuses, with obvious pride in their talent.

I love working with young people; etching, drawing, painting. I’d like to help promote up-and-coming young artists,” he enthuses, with obvious pride in their talent

I meet the Rebergens who eventually convince him to show me some of his work too. “My art is based in Venda spirituality, which provides a rich inspiration and forms an endless process,” he explains. But to stop there would be to underplay the contemporary, explorative nature of his work. You can read a bit more about it here, on the David Krut website, where it is described as using “the microcosm of his immediate surroundings to make macrocosmic comments, most poetically, on wider social issues.”

I am taking some photos and Avhashoni reluctantly admits he is learning photography too. What an understatement! In 2008 he was selected as one of five finalists for the Sasol Wax Art Award for his photography (along with artists Stephen Hobbs, Hentie van der Merwe, Brett Murray and Tracey Rose). The artists had to submit proposals for a body of work using wax (one of Sasol’s major products worldwide), either in process, medium or concept.

Avhashoni took the concept and used candles to illuminate sacred places in Venda mythology, lighting candles at the sacred forest and Lake Fundudzi, where a belief in the ancestors and sacred spirits is still a lived belief… He photographed the process for his entry. The work is beautiful and moving and he talks a bit about his increasing interest in why we use candles in religion. “This is something I wanted to explore in my art; I want to explore ancient themes in a modern way.”

Avhashoni’s next project is still being defined, but he says, “I have travelled around the world and discovered that Venda are similar to some British people and some Scottish people. Their “witchcraft" has a lot of similarities to Venda practices and I want to look into that…”

He is wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Beautiful stuff’. I can only agree.

Category: Arts & Entertainment

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