Of all the skirts in the Earth Project series, this little one was the most difficult to capture and like most adolescents, nearly drove me crazy. She is The Enchantress: Nomkhubulwane, who represents the whispering seduction of Spring, the time of pollen, seed and planting.
She is the Nature goddess as both maiden and princess and when designing this skirt, I drew inspiration from Zulu tales of Nomkhubulwane, the fertility goddess or heavenly princess, who is believed to arrive in the Spring of each year, bringing fertility to both humans and the land. In his essay explaining his epic work Anthem of the Decades, Mazisi Kunene describes her as “the daughter of God and goddess of balance”, and goes on to describe her as “the most central symbol of creation…establishing the female principle as philosophically the primary force of creation”. She represents verdant fields, lush forests and abundance in every form, but she is most often associated with water, the source of Life, and is linked to rain, rivers and rainbows. In Zulu tradition, it is believed that she sometimes appears as a mermaid.
By her very nature, the Enchantress cannot be captured, for she is elusive and as intangible as the mist; reach out to touch her, and she will dissolve and disappear.
She is innocent, young, fertile and fleeting, an enchantment to the senses. In Nature we see her everywhere: soft mists, shafts of light, rainbows, spring blossoms and the call of a soft grey dove. She is both light and shadow and is always shifting form.
In human terms, she is the teen who is blossoming, on the cusp of becoming a woman.
Though she may appear delicate and demure, in reality she holds the power to receive or reject the offering. She is both innocent and infinitely knowing. She is in the flow.
In this artwork, I saw her at the base of the waterfall, in the soft mossy bank beneath the spray.
The inspiration for the look and feel of the skirt, came from two images that I took whilst traveling to the Kunene River on the Angola/Namibia border in 2002. The simplicity and freedom of these skirts seemed to capture the innocence of these young maidens.
The soft folds of the skirt are flowing and free and the shoal of fish darting in and out of the folds, are suggestive of water and the dispersal of seed and fertility; both connected to the source of life and a reference to the abantu bomlambo, the ancestral spirits that are believed in African tradition, to reside deep below the water surface, most often at the base of a waterfall. Seeds and white beads (symbolic of purity), are frequently left as offerings at the waters edge, and both feature strongly in this design, both around the waistband and as the central motif.
The magical sea bean, (Umthonzima in isiXhosa), which features at the centre of the waistband, is a large brown, smooth seed of a forest climber. These seeds are usually transported down rivers and waterways, often landing up in the sea, where they are eventually collected off the sea shore. They are believed to have supernatural powers that ensure fertility and successful harvests.
The style of the beading around the waistband was inspired by a little beaded Xhosa apron (Inkciyo), worn by a friend of mine when she was very young. This garment is generally worn by pre-pubescent girls, so it’s inclusion in the skirt is symbolic of the maiden being about to leave her childhood behind.
As I worked on this skirt, I was acutely aware that this is a pivotal point in the cycle, for not only does the continuation of life depend upon Spring and fertility, it is also the time where both women and Nature are most vulnerable and open to misinterpretation. This is where exploitation most frequently occurs and where the Yin and the Yang go out of balance. When the allure of youthful, feminine beauty attracts the hungry male, it can trigger a desire to control and ‘own’ that which has attracted him. It is here that women are frequently debased and subjugated as objects for male satisfaction, and similarly Nature’s majestic beauty is exploited and polluted for monetary gain.
To maintain the delicate balancing act, so necessary for the continuation of Life, the seductive qualities of both Nature and women need to be respected and enjoyed for what they are; life-bringing, free spirited and ever changing.
“To see a World in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower.
To hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour”
William Blake. Auguries to Innocence