Friday, January 16, 2015

The sculptor's Venda cathedral

Venda Sun 19

Sculpture by John Baloyi, Venda,
South Africa

Neighbours of mine have just returned from Barcelona and Nick was showing me the inside of the Sagrada Familia on his phone, the light from the different coloured windows, the columns like trees. I never went inside when I visited the city because the children were little and the queues too long. But there's a lot in Gaudi that reminds me of John Baloyi a South African artist whose work we saw years ago and who, sadly, we never met. He was out when Jackson Hlungwani took us to his studio and then he was killed in a car crash. 

It's the light, the sense of space, the twisted shapes, the animals, glittering mosaics. I don't know if Baloyi knew Gaudi's work and I hope that in 2015 his studio is taken care of, preserved properly, given the status it deserves, because in 2012 it looked as if it was on the verge of complete neglect. What a scandal. 

Wednesday August 1, 2012

I'm hoping for a full dawn chorus but in the winter the birds aren't so active, apart from the cockerel. I'm disappointed.  Giya and I manage to rig up a bag shower I bought from the pound shop in Brighton. It's marginally better than washing in a bowl.

The sun comes up opposite the terrace the houses are built on, behind a range of low hills. The mist has gone. It's 10 am and already hot. A neighbour gave us two pumpkins and some Chinese leaves. We've worked out how to make toast.

John Balolyi's crocodile in the Polokwane art gallery was one of the first sculptures I saw by local artists, before Jackson took us on a tour of Limpopo studios all those years ago. I remember Baloyi's studio in the sun, brightly coloured with a giraffe chair that one of the children sat on, Jackson so proud this artist was his student, disappointed he wasn't there. The studio's still on the tourist trail, and Jackson's, but both of them are dead. We haven't the heart to go to Jackson's, it's a kind of unspoken understanding. But we decide to visit Baloyi's.

It's hard to find from Elim. The Venda Sun map is unspecific as so many of them are because proper maps just don't exist of this area. We're driving most of the time on dirt roads in the direction of Giyani, dipping into a fertile valley, houses everywhere of course, old lorries belching fumes, more new 4x4s and other top of the range cars - they're lined up in the car parks of every primary school.
At John Baloyi's studio

John Baloyi was a good friend of Vohnani Bila (poet who was with us at Christmas during our last visit) and died in a car crash. What a loss. 

His studio is a fantasy world, a warren of small rooms with painted walls, decorated with figures, patterns and in different rooms, sculptures made from long twisted branches that seem to be everywhere here. Walls with circular windows made out of car wheel hubs, large gaping faces or bodies reaching upwards. A drum with a tail and legs, another shaped into a crocodile. Orange walls with charcoal figures, a corner of local pots....the studio goes on and on, wasps nests in corridors, until you come out past a carving space to the front of the house where the walls glint with mirrors and grey tiles, the steps are mottled yellow, black, ochre, green and his widow is washing clothes in a bowl on the garden wall.

She is the woman who opened the metal gate to us, asking nothing, quietly showing us the entrance and saying it was open.

The roof of a small roundhouse is falling in and a rectangular window directs sun onto the floor. It could be a chapel in a cathedral.

In the garden there's a line of statues, grey with the weather, cracking or falling over. Nothing has been looked after. Under a tree there's another pile of Venda pots and as we stand on the step and chat, or rather, Risenga chats and we look, I see Baloyi's grave under an orange tree in the garden, buried according to local tradition, on his own land. His gravestone is polished, dark and light grey, the only thing in the garden that seems to have been looked after.
Traditional pots at the studio

It's such a depressing experience and afterwards, we're back on the dirt road to look for some of the women potters we saw with Jackson years ago. We ask a couple of women sitting in the shade of a tree. Everyone we ask says straight on on, straight, second left. The directions are never right. 

But what we don't notice is a sign at a turn off saying 13 km to the potters. It's not on the map. The pottery in Mashamba has gone it seem, so we go to the Mukondeni Pottery.

Dust. A lorry passes and there's more of it. Kids walking home from school are enveloped in it. It's on my skin, in my nose, hair, fingernails. 

Driving's hard and the car's rattling. At the tar road, heading back, we make for Louis Trichardt. It's long, straight and burning by now, mid afternoon. R needs to sort out his dongle, we need to find a Checkers for decaff coffee. We buy deodorant that claims to work for 48 hours.
Women at the Mukondeni Pottery, Venda

Outside a fish and chip shop is a bakkie full of enormous cabbages, the biggest I've seen. There are obviously no slugs here. And I haven't seen a pigeon.


The moon's virtually full and we have to cook. Later, half asleep, I hear a massive wind like a vacuum cleaner around the house, no warning, then it's gone. Tomorrow is Solomon's funeral and I won't be there.