Vibrancy, artistry and mystery emanate from Adrienne Walker Hoard’s exhibition, “New Democracy Art: A South African Saga of Women, Art, and Identity,” featuring 24 photographs by Hoard with accompanying narratives and original art works by South African women at Kansas City Central Library.
Over the course of 18 years and 15 trips to South Africa, Hoard documented transformations of art, culture and life among the AmaNdeble indigenous people of South Africa since its democratization in 1994. An emeritus professor of fine art and black studies at UMKC, Hoard first visited South Africa in 1996 to research “symbol sources” for abstract patterning she saw within works by contemporary African American artists.
Focusing on the art, people, and particularly the artistic women of the Ndundza Ndebele nation, Hoard photographically captures a rich fusion of art, family, tradition and the exposure to western culture within this indigenous society. At the time of her first visit, there was no electricity or running water, no knowledge of photography and little understanding of the outside world. But western influences began emerging, as seen in the black socks, designer sunglasses and pink nail polish worn by some of her subjects., for example.
In a recent conversation, Hoard spoke about her intention for viewers “to see these people as more than just people, as larger than life.” This quality radiates from individual and group portraits, scenes of ceremonial groups, details of hands, and candid images of elders, youth and royalty engaged in everyday life.
“Lettie Masilela” (1996), is a striking, black and white portrait of a revered artist from the Limpopo Province. Wearing beaded adornments on her head and shoulders and multiple brass neck rings, she is captured in front of a wall painted with bold, geometric patterns complementing elements of the beadwork she wears.
This early portrait and others, including the exquisite image of “Maria, Adorned as a Mother of Sons” (2001), exemplify the deep traditions, creative spirit and skill shared by women who meticulously construct all the sewn and beaded adornment that men, women and children wear. Women also paint their houses with bright, geometric patterns that are unique for each family.
Ndebele women view their art as a service. Daughters and granddaughters learn these practices, which are integral for each generation. “Drawing to Paint” (2013) depicts a young woman, Nonie, practicing her family clan symbol on a panel, a pattern of “running diamonds” which she will eventually paint. “Grandma’s Hands” (2001) captures Francinah Ndimande placing the final initiation headpiece she made on her grandson.
Along with their work as artists in their communities, Ndebele women, since 1999-2000, have made art to sell, referred to as “commodity projects.” Hoard explores this topic in depth in her upcoming book, “New Democracy Art: A South African Saga of Women, Art and Identity,” with a publication date to be determined.
“Adrienne Walker Hoard: New Democracy Art: A South African Saga of Women, Art, and Identity” continues at the Kansas City Central Library, 14 West 10th St., through Dec. 29. Hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday – Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, 816.701.3400 or www.kclibrary.org/exhibits.