Every once in a while I come upon an artist whose work really moves me. One such artist is sculptor,Thomas Kubayi, who lives on a hilltop in the village of Tshivhuyuani, near Elim, Northern Limpopo. The first time that I came upon his work was in 2009, when I was doing a tour of all the artists in the area. I remember clearly my visit to Thomas’s studio and home, and being so impressed by his work that I couldn’t depart without purchasing one of his sculptures. To this day it has pride of place in my home.
One of the reasons that I like his work so much is that not only is Thomas an excellent craftsman, but he understands the soul of the wood he carves. In turn, he imbues his carvings with a spirituality that reflects the soul of a good man. In addition to being a sculptor, he is a musician, drum builder, story teller, teacher and active community member, sharing his talents with any who are willing to learn.
Today is the 9th December 2013 and the world is in deep mourning for Nelson Mandela, who passed away four days ago. Although we have still not been able to catch the news or see any of the television coverage due to us being on the road for most of the week, I feel the sense of loss and sadness for the passing of this great man. In a way I am glad that I have not been sucked into the drama unfolding on the television, for it has allowed me an authentic space to think, feel and reflect upon what it actually means to have lost the father of our nation. On the other hand I do feel a little cheated, that perhaps by not watching TV, I have somehow missed out on witnessing this momentous event of history.
Anyway, we are on our way back from our rendezvous with the dancers, when Petra mentions that we have enough time left to visit one of the many artists in the area, and who is it to be? Immediately I know whose work I would like to see and suggest that we should pop in to visit Thomas in his studio. She is happy to oblige.
Thomas is as cheerful and welcoming as I remember him and we exchange greetings and good wishes before entering his studio. I am eager to see what new work he has to show and to possibly be reminded of some I have seen before.
As we enter, I am not prepared for the impact of the sculpture that is standing in the centre of the room, surrounded by smaller figures over which it bows with an air of humility. It is a beautifully sculpted figure of Nelson Mandela, several metres high, with wings that reach into the rafters of the building. I have seen this sculpture before, on my last visit, but this time, given the events of the past few days, it takes on a whole new significance, and I am struck by how prophetic this creation is, given that it was made well over 5 years ago. It seems such a fitting time to be seeing it again.
Feeling quite overwhelmed, I crouch on the cool cement floor, looking up at the artwork and feel the angelic presence of Madiba, his goodness and humility radiating from the glow of the carefully carved wood. The light from the open window catches the edge of his face, and the illumination elevates the sculpture into the celestial realm. In his one hand he holds a vessel, in the other a handful of seed.
In this most unexpected scenario, I realise that I have been given my chance to remember and pay tribute to the man who brought freedom to this country, and what better way to do it than sitting in the hut of an honest and gifted man, in the rural heart of South Africa? I draw a deep breath and absorb the moment with gratitude.
From the main studio area, Thomas then takes us through to another room to view a whole array of his beautifully hand carved African musical instruments, which he then shows us how to play.
We move outside and across to his main gallery, enjoying the many sculptures that are displayed in the garden between the two buildings.
To see a few more examples of Thomas’s work, click on the images in the gallery below:
Needless to say, I did not leave empty handed, and I am thrilled to be adding one more Thomas Kubayi to my collection.
So if anyone out there is in the market for a show stopping and meaningful piece of artwork, contact Thomas, or better still, pay him a visit at his studio.