Thursday, March 25, 2010

Contemporary South African Wire Art by Talented Locals

The following is orginally a blog that appeared on

After working several 16-hour days I need a break. So armed with a sandwich and a camera I set off to have lunch with the neighbours.

First up was a regular “crew” who occupies a spot on the busy intersection of Bolton and Jan Smuts Roads in Rosebank. Here they carve out a living using some wire, beads and some of the most creative talent I have ever seen.

I take a seat on a empty paint drum; hand over a sandwhich and introduce myself and so starts a wonderful conversation with a Zimbabwean named Boas Manzvenga. Boas is the brains behind the operation, together he, Eddie, Telmore and Elias own and operate a rather successful wire art business.

Boas was once a successful supervisor in a chemical company in Zimbabwe but the recession and political instability forced his company to close and left him without income. After several months of fruitless job-hunting, he made his way South.

That was five years ago. Today Boas says that he loves South Africa. Here the economy is good. When times are good he can make enough money as his own boss to pay his rent, cellphone and he even bought a car and when times are not so good he finds seasonal employment as a supervisor.

After lunch Boas sits back and picks up his wire art creation once again; he is beading the intricate body detail of a giraffe. He talks at a moderate pace; looks me in the eye; cracks a joke and every now and then lovingly strokes the body of his creation. I am transfixed by the speed at which this intricate animal is being shaped.

Asked where his passion for wire art comes from he smiles and says it started with “streetcars” — small wire cars he and his friends used to make as children. Later, he attended a technical training college in Zimbabwe where he learnt the sculpture of anatomy and beading.

The others join in the conversation. Their stories are similar.

The Goodman Gallery across the street has given them a space where they can display and sell their art to customers ranging from serious art collectors to visiting tourists. “South Africans are good people” he says, “they do not bother us and like our art.”

When I ask if there is anything else they can make besides African animals, they grin. Eddie points to a giant beaded afro comb, a sewing machine and even a satellite dish.

I get up to leave and they all jump up, thank me warmly for taking time to talk to them and hand over their business cards. I take them with a smile.

It seems when it comes to creativity all you need is your imagination, wire and beads, and a busy intersection in South Africa.

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