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FFor international visitors to the country, picking up a unique piece of local wire art is the perfect way to take some of South Africa’s vibrant culture home. South African artists are well known for creating ingenious works of functional and decorative art from discarded metal and telephone wire.
Wire art was pioneered by children and parents in the townships and rural areas of the country, who made toys out of the only resources available to them – discarded wire.
Wire art evolved and spread to all corners of the country. Like boerewors and kwaito, the unique works of metal and telephone wire are now synonymous with our country.
Wire art is now a thriving business and a sophisticated art form, with many producers of wire sculptures supporting families by selling their creations on street corners, at craft markets, in shops and selected art galleries.
Collectives of wire artists, such as Streetwires in Cape Town, have also sprung up. They bring wire and bead artists together to create an innovative range of decorative and functional wire art objects: from elephants, Nguni cattle, wire sculptures of Nelson Mandela and wire radios to key rings, picture frames, baskets and egg cups.
Some of the earliest examples of this art form can be traced to the hills of Zululand, in the north-east corner of South Africa, where young herd boys started making toy cars out of discarded coat hanger wire, tin cans and whatever else they could get their hands on.
Especially famous and increasingly sought-after are model car sculptures. They are often complete with independent axles, fully functional steering columns and lots of intricate details; ample evidence that when it comes to innovation and creativity, South Africans are just wired differently.
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Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)21 426 2475
How to get here
South African wire art is sold at markets, on street corners and in shops around the country.
Tours to do
Learn to make your own wire art by attending one of Streetwires' 90-minute workshops. It includes a full tour of Streetwires plus a practical workshop session where participants learn how to create wire art pieces.
What will it cost?
South African wire art can range in price from R20 for a key ring to R20 000 for an elaborate collector's item.
Wire radios make quirky and original gifts.