Fresh Takes on Traditional Motifs
The boldly colored, symmetrical geometric patterns created by Ndebele women in their jewelry and on the walls of their homes are instantly recognizable and internationally adored. And thanks to designers who are incorporating these traditional motifs into modern products, they are also easy to bring home.
For generations, Ndebele women have created freehanded patterns using chicken-feather paintbrushes and traditional pigments. Inspired by such beauty while traveling, two entrepreneurs from France founded Amahlé, an “ethical fashion brand” that offers handmade pieces created by South African crafters and designed to complement contemporary fashion, such as cuff bracelets and pendant necklaces.
Timeless African patterns have also influenced up-and-coming furniture designer Siyanda Mbele, who studied interior design at the Durban University of Technology. Recipient of the 2015–16 Southern Guild Design Foundation’s Future Found Award, Mbele was featured at 100% Design’s 2015 curated showcase in Johannesburg. Current offerings echo Nbelele murals and beading: the Nandini side table, a small, bold-colored geometric piece; its streamlined spinoff, the Pinda side table; and the neutrally colored Ndalo coffee table. He has also crafted a stunning oak desk with Zulu-inspired chevron drawers and carvings.
The most famous Ndebele artist, octogenarian Esther Mahlangu, recently collaborated with two luxury brands — Belvedere Vodka and BMW. She designed Belvedere’s newest collaboration with (RED), and sales of this limited-edition bottle will raise money for the Global Fund, an AIDS-prevention organization. She also completed her second commission for BMW: the interior of a BMW 7 Series. Twenty-five years ago, she became the first woman artist to create a BMW Art Car, painting the exterior of a BMW 525i Sedan in an unmistakable Ndebele motif.