11 March 2013 by Chris Marais

Veering through Venda

The artists of Venda in Limpopo are a world-famous group, and their work is always worth collecting.

Welcome to the Venda art route...

Meet Thomas Kubayi, whose metal fish signpost is almost as famous as the whole Venda art route.

Thomas lives in Makulana village east of Makhado (Louis Trichardt) and is inspired by local traditional life, rituals and culture. His father taught him to carve ‘over there’, he says, pointing to a low-slung pergola where a crafter can sit in shady peace.

Justice Mugwena at work on his angel

How does he do it?

'When I work on the smaller pieces, I allow the wood (he prefers to work with leadwood) to speak to me. For the bigger pieces, however, I have to do some planning.'

The most serious student of Kubayi’s work is Justice Mugwena, who leads the new generation of Venda sculptors.

Justice carves under a wild teak tree, and the ground where he works is full of woodchips. He reverently brings his tools, and falls to the feet of the angel he is carving, gently chiselling the block she stands on.

'She was unfaithful to God, so she has fallen to Earth.'

He likes carving in ironwood, teak, tambotie, fragrant olive, magic guarri and acacias. And he likes having likely pieces around him.

'The wood can be lying there for two years, then suddenly a picture will come to me, and then it will be nice.'

He also tells me how the wood is identified by scratching, cutting and sniffing at it. Here, sniff the delicious wild olive.

When I work on the smaller pieces, I allow the wood to speak to me.

Like all the great carvers one comes across on this art route, he seems to favour making his art in the middle of a vegetable patch. While we’re there having lunch, an uncle comes to deliver compost for Justice. And after lunch, the young artist bends before his unfinished piece and begins to bring more life to the wood...'

The assorted works of Thomas Kubayi, master crafter from Venda


A Venda pot collection – good collectible decor art

Category: Routes & Trails

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