Posts Tagged ‘grade 12 visual art’

They Don’t Make Them Like They Used to, 2008.

They Don’t Make Them Like They Used to, 2008.

The works of Mary Sibande depicts her alter-ego Sophie, a domestic worker who finds refuge in dreams where she emancipates herself from the realism of an ordinary existence, cleaning other people’s homes.

Mary Sibande developed the character of Sophie in series of life-size sculptures and photographic prints. According to Sibande they are a collection of fantasies and imagined narratives, developed from her personal history. Her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all maids. Sibande was the first woman in her family allowed to study and she wanted to celebrate this.

“I wanted to celebrate them (the domestic workers). I think they are heroes. It was so hard to put food on the table.”

Sibande uses the human figure as a vehicle for exploring identity in context of a post-colonial South Africa. In the process she also comments on the stereotypical depictions of especially black women in South Africa. The figures used in sculptures are casted from the artist’s own body in fiberglass and silicone, the same material used for shop window mannequins. Sophie’s Victorian costumes are handmade mainly from the blue fabric typical of domestic workers uniforms and workmen’s overalls in South Africa.

Her sculptures and photographic work depicting the domestic work are not intended to create feelings of shame, anger or humiliation in the viewer , but rather to transcend this reality where the domestic worker is able to liberate herself. The implication is that we can all be freed from the past. This is particularly significant for the victims, perpetrators and beneficiaries of Apartheid.

In these works Sophie’s eyes are closed reflecting the aspect that daydreams are products of inner dialogue. The works have a theatrical quality which places them in a realm of fantasy. Her dress is a protest against being a maid and at the same time it is the facade that allows her fantasies to come to life.

According to Sibande, faith and fashion have always been areas of interest for her. “People don’t just wear plain clothes but explore different possibilities of how and when to wear their clothes. I am often reminded of the ‘Sunday special clothes’ one wore as a child, this idea has matured and become a standard idea at places of worship. It is almost as if looking your best and worshiping are birds of a feather. Ideas of gender and race seem to be also another space of exploration. The work was an attempt at subverting the image of the inactive or passive woman.

mary sinandeThe-Reign-

The Reign, 2010.

Sibande raises the ordinary women high above the ground, to hero status, thus simultaneously celebrating South African women who have been negatively affected by Apartheid, yet lived courageous lives.

In Reign, Sophie reveals a purple undercoat beneath her trademark blue frock, revealing at the same time a starting point for her later Purple Shall Reign works. 

Mary Sibande, A Terrible Beauty is Born, 2013

Mary Sibande, A Terrible Beauty is Born, 2013

Her latest works are an offshoot from her earlier sculptures of Sophie Ntombikayise.  Mary Sibande employs the human form as a vehicle through painting, photography and sculpture, to explore the construction of identity, particularly black women’s identity, in a postcolonial South Africa.

Sibande draws inspiration from a specific event in the late 1980s, in which the police sprayed protestors with a water cannon laced with purple dye to enable them to identify and arrest anti-apartheid activists. This act motivated Mary’s interest in the roles that colour played in the history of this country. Colour remains a predominant factor in our social interactions and it continues to play a dominant role in our perceptions of one another as South Africans. In Sibande’s view it is like a monster that we are all too familiar with. On a personal level, this new work comes full circle as Sibande connects it back to her very first exhibition, where she displayed a figure – that represented her – in purple attire.

The work of south African artist Mary Sibande

Sophie-Ntombikayise, 2009

This new body of work marks Sibande’s break with her alter ego ‘Sophie’, both figures, however, still have their eyes closed. This suggests that the purple encounter is a further daydream/fantasy of an undepicted external Sophie. In A Terrible Beauty is Born (2013), the domestic worker’s uniform is removed from the Sophie figure by the purple creatures. The tentacled creatures are referred to as “non-winged ceiling beings”. Given that the uniform was instrumental to the reading of much of the political content of Sibande’s previous work, through the connection to her family history, this suggests a release from the connotations of servitude with which they are imbued. In this sense, the implication is that Sibande’s duelling figures could be read in terms of the splitting of the super-ego; Sophie Blue, defined by (unjust) social conventions and the Sophie Purple, impulsive, instinct-driven.

mary sibande duel

Purple Shall Govern, 2013

Purple Shall Govern, 2013

According to Mary Sibande;

This sculpture was dressed in a purple costume and its function was about taking control of identity (or my identity) through its gesture and naming. In a way, purple for me has become about taking control of elements that were not afforded to black people in apartheid South Africa. So, the title The Purple Shall Govern is about extending that declaration to the next level, and taking it to a performative level. Purple for me is a colour of privilege, I am attempting to use this privilege afforded to me by those who have fought for it.

‘Purple is a colour of royalty. The clergy and the royalty of England wear, or wore, purple if they were meeting an important person. Purple dye was expensive and only the rich were able to wear it. So I thought: ‘I like the idea that this colour places you. I thought, I am actually privileged and rich at the same time. I am not like my mother, I am not like my grandmother and I’m not like my great-grandmother. And I needed to elevate the figure that represented me.’

It is a reference to a march that took place in Cape Town in 1989, where the police sprayed protesters with purple dye to mark them for arrest after the march. The slogan that emerged was that the “purple will indeed govern”My question is whether they will govern even though they are marked to be arrested.”


For Mary Sibande the purple tentacle, root-like appendages, puts Sophie in limbo where she is evolving. You can’t exactly say what they are but according to Sibande;

I have recently encountered Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of the ‘rhizome’. They say a rhizome has neither a beginning nor and end, but always a middle. The philosophers speak about the idea of roots that build up a body. With this work, the ideas of violence are insinuated and yet the violated and the violator are connected.

Francisco Goya, Fight with Cudgels', c. 1820–1823

Francisco Goya, Fight with Cudgels’, c. 1820–1823

The figures’ gestures are ambiguous in being neither violent nor defensive, in reference to Francisco Goya’s Fight with Cudgels. The creatures are Sophie turned inside out. They are a look at intestines, an inspection of the mess within.

This work is about deconstructing the familiar ideas built into my work. In other words, questioning what Sophie, the character, had dreamt of. The way to make sense of the dreams is to interrogate their nature, their context and how they built themselves up. In the process of letting go of older ideas of my work, I am opening doors for new challenges.

‘The Purple Shall Govern’ presents the next chapter, in which Sibande speaks of her own aspirations, desires, fears and anxieties of being a woman. The concept of rebirth, where she refers to the idea of transitioning from the person you were before into a new or different idea of yourself – death and rebirth – is extensively explored. 

References and Further Reading


Lesley Mofokeng, City Press

Just be Nothing

The Observer, Sunday 26 August 2012





Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa

Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa

Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa is a charismatic and controversial figure, and is regarded by many as Africa’s William Blake; rejected by some as a madmen or fake,  and worshiped by others.  No one could however, dispute Credo’s prodigious creative output as a writer, playwright, story teller, and artist, no matter how controversial his views may be. Two years older than Jackson Hlungwani, he will be 92 years old on 21 July 2013, and at this age he still creates artworks and continues to inspire controversy.

Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa was born as an illegitimate child in the Natal on July 21, 1921. Credo Mutwa grew up religiously divided between his father’s Roman Catholism and his mother’s adherence to traditional religion. His very name is a composite of his cultures of origin. “Vusamazulu“ is a Zulu honorific, meaning “Awakener of the Zulus“ and came through his initiation as a Sangoma (Traditional Healer, Shaman). But the name “Credo“ was given to him by his father, a Christian. It is from the Latin “I believe“. “Mutwa“ is Zulu for “little Bushman“ – “Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa“ then may mean “Great Awakener, I Believe (in) Little Bushman“.

credo mutwa

 Credo was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. His father held the position of “catechism instructor“. His mother Numabunu, however, was the daughter of the shaman-warrior Ziko Shezi, who had survived the battle of Ulundi, which ended the Zulu-Wars. Shezi was a Samgoma, and custodian of Zulu relics. Memorably the child would carry his grandfather’s medicine bags, full of sacred objects, to various ceremonies.

 The split in religion was to prove decisive for his parents’ relationship, and they never formally married, separating soon after Mutwa was born. Credo was educated in mission schools, taught in English about Western history and civilisation, and confirmed as a Christian in the process. His goal in those years was to become a schoolteacher.

 In 1935 his father converted to Christian Science, the American church founded in the 19th centuary by Mary Baker Eddy, who understood God as a Divine Mind responsible for healing the Body, mind and spirit.

In 1943 there began a time of sickness and disorientation for the young man. He was afflicted with dreams and visions, and a strange malaise would often come over him. Mutwa was forbidden conventional medicine in keeping with the avoidance of modern medicine practiced by the Christian Scientologists. Instead his father read to him from the book, “Science and Health”, by the “American Holy Woman.” Rejecting his father’s holy woman, Mutwa turned to his mother’s family during his crisis.

Illustration by Nikhil Singh

 Under their tutelage , he learned that his illness was not an illusion, as the teachings of the Christian Scientists said, but an entry into a new and special role within African traditional teachings. He was experiencing the sickness that often comes to future Sangomas, initiating their call to become a Sangoma. There are several kinds of traditional healers among the Zulu. An “Inyanga“ may inherit the profession from relatives, but a “Sangoma“ must receive a “call“ from the spirits, which seemed to be happening to the young Mutwa.

 In Credo’s own words;

It was while growing up that it was discovered that I was something of a visionary and a prophet. A talent, which together with an artistic inclination, to draw and to sculpt, the woman who now brought me up, my fathers new wife, did her uttermost to suppress.

 I did not attend school until I was well within my 14th year of life. And because my family now kept on travelling, as a result of my fathers building profession, which took him from town to town, we became a family of travelers  who never stayed long in one place.

 It was here that I began to question many things that I never questioned before. Were our ancestors really the savages that quiet missionaries would have us believe they were? Were we Africans really a race of primitives who possessed no knowledge at all before the white man came to Africa? These and many, many other questions began to haunt my mind. And then one day when he was sure that I was fully returned to health, my grandfather told me that the illness that had been troubling me for so long, had actually been a sacred illness which required that I had to become a shaman, a healer. And when the old man said this to me, I readily agreed to undergo initiation at the hands of one of my grandfather’s daughters, a young sangoma named Myrna.

Image by Christa Zettle

Image by Christa Zettle

 Mutwa had to undergo purification ceremonies, renounce formal Christianity, and begin to prepare himself to receive the training of the Sangoma. Credo Mutwa was eventually was elevated to the rank of “High Sanusi“, like the Indian “Sannyasin“, a holy man who has taken vows. However, …

As the years past, I became filled with a fanatical obsession; I realized how rapidly Africa was changing. I realized to my shock and sorrow that the culture of my people, a culture that I had thought immortal, was actually dying. Very, very soon the Africa that I knew would become a forgotten thing. A thing of the past and I decided to try and preserve somehow, what I could of my people’s culture. How was I to do that? Friends advised me to write books. One friend advised me to build living museums in which I would preserve the dying culture of my people.

When I was made into a Sanusi, I took a vow never to reveal my knowledge, never to tell people about my profession or about the sacred artefacts that I am entrusted with. But I feel that this vow is a hindrance, and some years ago I decided to break it. The result of this has been that my people have ostracized me and many people have bitterly blamed me for what I had done.

Credo Mutwa believes in the value of tradition, but also affirms that we live in changing times. The traditions are to be kept, but their influence is to be made open to a larger audience than the dwindling faithful among the Zulu people.

The keepers of traditional stories are called “Guardians of the Umlando (tribal history), a different but overlapping role with that of the Sangoma. This role Credo has also embraced. To become this kind of traditional storyteller requires and aptitude for precise memorization and also the dramatic and artistic recitation of the stories.

His Art 

Mutwa had no formal training in art. All of his artworks are an outflow of his personal mission and vision to bring the almost forgotten tales, myths and knowledge of traditional African Spirituality to a wider audience and to preserve it before it is completely lost, as most of African traditional knowledge was passed on orally from the mouth of the teacher to the ear of the student. According to Credo great emphasis was placed on memorising these stories in exact detail.

Both Credo Mutwa and Jackson Hlungwane are considered either as extreme eccetrics, bordering on madness or great visionaries from various sources.

Bob Cnoops also a spiritual South African Artist influenced by Credo Mutwa and who uses symbols and metaphors from African tribal customs, and their spiritual belief systems to express the meaning of his composite images, made an interesting comment on how madness and eccentricity is viewed, as relating to both Jackson Hlungwane and Credo Mutwa.

What particularly interests me is the very fine and fluctuating line drawn between madness and extreme eccentricity. Madness usually results in total rejection by the community, with extreme consequences, while the most bizarre eccentric will be treated with utmost respect and even fear. Two well known examples of this treatment are Credo Mutwa and  Jackson Hlungwane. Mutwa is both revered and reviled in the same community. The two camps are generally divided by age: the young who revile him and the old who revere him. Hlungwane, on the other hand, is revered as an artist by the young (not the old), and revered as a “prophet” and seer by the older section of the community.

This also refers to Crazy wisdom, also known as holy madness, that is a manifestation of certain spiritual adepts where they behave in unconventional, outrageous, or unexpected fashion. It is considered to be a manifestation of spiritual accomplishment in some spiritual traditions such Dharmic Traditions, Zen, Sufi, Charismatic Christianity, and Shamanism. Crazy wisdom is also a modality of communication, in which the adept employs esoteric and seemingly unspiritual methods to awaken an aspirant’s consciousness. The sacred fool, divine madman & madwoman, village idiot, and divine ecstasy is also associated with it. There is a biblical reference to divine madness, when the Holy spirit descended on the disciples and they were seen as drunk. – Acts 2:15

William Blake’s The Ghost of a Flea, 1819–1820.

Credo Mutwa has often been compared to the 18th centuary poet and artist William Blake, who was considered mad by his contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, but was held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. Blake adapted pagan and christian mythical motifs to create his own innovative, idiosyncratic and creative religious mythology. Credo can also been seen to have done the same with African traditional motifs and Western religious and mythical symbolism, thereby redefining indigenous African religion.

Titamogofaudon- Soweto Cultural village

Titamogofaudon- Soweto Cultural village

Like William Blake, Credo claimed to have seen visions from a young age and experienced visions throughout his life. Blake believed that he was personally instructed and encouraged by Archangels to create his artistic works, which he claimed were actively read and enjoyed by those same Archangels. Like Blake, Credo’s visions are the basis of his artworks, some of his paintings are even seen as prophesies by some of his followers.

Mutwa’s cultural villages can also be seen as large installations, or environmental art, reflecting his spiritual vision of Africa’s indigenous religions. He regards creativity as a type of prayer in action. This is also an integral part of other African  religions.  Mutwa sees artistry and creativity as powerful  forces to recognize and enable the divinity in mankind.  Like Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, he believed that art had an “awakening and prophetic power.”

Credo’s artworks includes his paintings, monumental sculptures in cement, and smaller recycled steel sculptures. His paintings are mostly in oil and represents his mystical visions, prophecies and African myths.


Most of Credo’s sculptures were part of the two cultural villages he designed and built. These villages included architectural structures representational of the traditions and myths that Credo wanted to depict and were interspersed with his giant scultures. The sculptures that he constructed juxtaposes African folklore and art with an increasingly Westernised society. Mutwa used a combination of modern and traditional materials including stone, reed thatching, recycled metals and cement, and was helped by a team of assistants he trained.

Most of his sculptures were monumental in size. Stylistically they do not reflect the traditional African simplifications and abstraction but are naturalistic representations. His human figures nevertheless reflects African aesthetics in their proportions. His female goddess figures were especially characteristic of Credo’s particular style; typically nude with rounded bellies and large breasts with gigantic proportions. Some of his sculptures were painted, if the colour were important to his vision like his Adam and Eve and the serpent, at Lotlamoreng Cultural Village, which he painted to represent the typical African skin type. While in others he retained the natural cement texture and colour. He is especially known for his mythical and alien creatures.

Credo Mutwa Soweto Village

Credo Mutwa Soweto Village

Soweto – Cultural Village

Credo Mutwa lived in Diepkloof in Soweto in the 1970s when he worked on the village, or what he saw as a living museum of the traditional African cultures or his vision of African traditional history and beliefs.

During that period Mutwa was employed by the South African National Parks Board. During the 1976 riots students attacked Credo’s village, burning the huts, carvings and other artifacts, because they saw his tourist village as promoting the separate development of Apartheid. Credo abandoned the village in 1978 after his son who was to succeed him was murdered by rebels who believed that his holding on to traditional faith was tantamount  to collaboration with the White Oppressors.

“Many black people misunderstood the purpose of my having built this living museum. They falsely accused me of cooperating with the apartheid regime and glamorizing the Soweto ghetto.” – Credo Mutwa

But I did not see myself as a politician, I saw myself as a healer, whose duty it was to preserve the greatness of his people, regardless of which government happened to be in power in South Africa. I saw myself as a healer whose purpose it was to create job opportunities for my starving people in Soweto, regardless of whether we were ruled by the apartheid regime or the ANC government. I believed firmly that knowledge was about politics and that a race that did not know its true greatness, will never obtain full freedom. And I was saddened by the fact that out people were making huge sacrifices, fighting for freedom when they did not know their full greatness. I said to my now late wife, Cecilia, and myself that if our people gain freedom under these circumstances, that freedom would be an illusion and a fraud.

I believed then as I believe now, that the African has never really gained freedom and independence. Which is why our people have not been able to achieve what nations such as India and the tiger Nations of South East Asia, which were once also colonized by the white people as we were, have today achieved. For example today India is a nuclear power feared and respected by all nations on earth. India is admired for its great culture and its ancient religious philosophies as well as its other philosophies. While Africa is a downtrodden casualty of history forever dependent like a whipped slave upon her former oppressors.

Bust of Shaka guarding the entrance to the main area

Bust of Shaka guarding the entrance to the main area

The entrance of the Sowetan village is guarded by two busts –one of Shaka, the Zulu king, and the other of Chief Ngungunyani of the Tsonga.

The large sculptures (most over 2 meters in height) of human and animal figures were placed among a number of thatched huts, constructed in a variety of African building styles and depicting a style of life now mostly lost.

Indigenous god-figures like Nomkhubulwane, the female goddess worshipped by the Nguni people; and Mvelinqange, a male deity reputedly worshipped in the pre-colonial era, dwarf the other statues.

Nkulu Nkulu, God the father and the chief of creation - Soweto village

Nkulu Nkulu, God the father and the chief of creation – Soweto village

The site in Soweto  consists of a number of different areas, the central one containing the monumental figures of Nkulu Nkulu, God the father and the chief of creation, and Nokhubuwana, God the mother, and three smaller figures. Alongside Nkulu Nkulu, who has four faces representing an African, a San, a Chinese and a European, is the figure of Umvelingangi, sun god of Africa, with a striking eagle face. These figures have now been restored and painted a uniform jade colour

credo soweto

Next to the Zulu village is the Basotho village, complete with huts and kraals. It tells the story of shepherds playing morabaraba – a traditional African board game dating back thousands of years – while guarding their livestock from marauding leopards.

African Moon Goddess - African Athena

African Moon Goddess – African Athena

There is also the Arab village, constructed by Mutwa, with oriental architecture and a mosque occupying pride of place. Prehistoric African mammals – presumably long extinct but reincarnated by Mutwa – include a three-horned beast called “triotribes” and a dragon-like creature called “titamogofaudon”.

The village in Soweto was partly destroyed during the riots but restoration of the village was initiated in 2006.



Mafeking – Lotlamoreng Cultural Village

The next village he built was in Mafeking at the Lotlamoreng dam which was a more ambitious tourist project for the then independent homeland of Bophuthatswana under the rulership of Lucas Manyane Mangope. Bophuthatswana was reintegrated into South Africa in 1994.


The village was truly a creative masterpiece and to enter it was to be transported to another world, populated with strange mythical creatures and dominated by the ruling earth mother goddesses.  Great attention to details were given from the construction of the numerous architectural structures right down to agricultural methods and traditional games, even a stone circle. In every respect it was a living museum for Credo particular vision and dedicated to honour Africa’s rich spiritual heritage.

Beginning in 1983 he supervised the construction of the villages, each representing the traditional culture of one of South Africa’s tribal groups. Not only was dozens of buildings of different styles created – demonstrating the differences for example between Basarwa, Pedi, Tswana, Zulu, Venda but the entire complex was dotted with fantastic figures, often on a giant scale. In addition, many of the rondavels were extremely large. There was also a complete mission church with its figures of John the Baptist sculpture, and a black Adam and Eve with the serpent, and a complete mission house, representing his interpretation of Christianity in Africa.

The beginning of the following video, and in between his prophesies are great images of  Lotlamoreng Cultural Village, before its destruction.

Colossal Earth Mother - Lotlamoreng

Nomkhubulwane – Colossal Earth Mother – Lotlamoreng

Other sculptures and masks with symbolic designs represented good and evil, fertility, rain, sun, moon and night and the spirituality of Africa, and its inner meaning. Some of the walls of the buildings were painted with drawings illustrating African proverbs. The complex was also a center that encouraged local crafts with a shop in the mission house that sold the crafts as well as some of Credo’s recycled metal sculptures. This complex especially showed Mutwa’s amazing versatility, his artistry, creativity and imagination.

credo village composite

The Cultural Village’s close relationship with Bophuthatswana was however, in the end, its undoing and most of it was destroyed by turmoil of of the transition years at the end of Apartheid.

Shamwari Game Reserve

In 1994 Mutwa was expelled from the village and he moved to the Eastern Cape employed by Shamwari Game Reserve. There he became more involved in nature conservation and was even rewarded in 1997 with the Audi Terra Nova Award for his contribution to wildlife conservation. The merger of culture and nature at Shamwari defined a new role for for Credo Mutwa as an indigenous environmentalist

“Apartheid is dead,” he said, “but separatism is alive and well, on an apartheid-like separatism between human and animal.”

Earth Mother - Shamwari Game Reserve

Earth Mother – Shamwari Game Reserve

The statue is called Mother Earth and the three breasts represent Birds, Fish and Animals on Land. The skull she is leaning on represents ancestors which play a vital role in the Xhosa culture. The Dolphin is seen by Credo as man’s connection with nature and god. According to him both the whales and dolphins were supernatural creatures and incarnations of a dead god.They were brought to earth by the sea god Mpangu, to protect the earth against negative forces. The dolphins were called ihlengethwa – the redeemer fish and are custodians of ancient knowledge that will be revealed once human beings can learn to communicate with them. According Mutwa the San were able to communicate with the dolphins by using a series of clicks and other sounds that are close to the Khoisan language.


Credo Mutwa is currently resident in Kuruman where he continues to sculpt and paint. After his first wife’s death he remarried, and with Virginia with whom he is busy on a new project.

Pontius Pilatus and the Ethiopian queen - Kuruman

Pontius Pilatus and the Ethiopian queen – Kuruman

A collection of Credo's metal sculptures

A collection of Credo’s metal sculptures


Most of Credo Mutwa’s paintings depicts his prophecies and visions or tales from Africa. His best known paintings were created during the 1970s and 1980s.  Many of his best works from this period were unfortunately lost, or are in private possession.

Credo’s visionary paintings displays a dreamlike quality with a naturalistic depiction of the subjects he represents.  Just like his sculptures, they are depicted in a traditional western art style rather than using the the stylistic abstraction found in African Art, as if to convey his visions as clearly as possible, which is in keeping with his personal philosophy to bring African spiritual traditions to as wide an audience as possible. He uses both natural and symbolic colurs rather than expressionistic colours so often used by his contemporaries. This in itself illustrates Credo lonely stance during the turbulent 80s in South Africa, when most other artists focused on political issues, and were breaking away from African traditions which was perceived to be promoting the separate development of Apartheid.

His works also reflects his ability a master story teller, clearly illustrating their narrative content. His horizontally composed narratives of  traditional myths reminds one of Renaissance allegories which revived myths from the classical  period. Just like the Renaissance artists used ancient symbolism in their works, so Credo used ancient African motifs but depicted them in a contemporary visual language and technique rather than traditional African techniques. In so doing he brought Africa’s hidden culture into a Western light of understanding, hoping to uplift Africa’s perceived “primitive”  beliefs to be seen in a new light.

Credo can be seen as an innovator in African folk religion. Like William Blake, who adapted recurring pagan and Christian mythic motifs to create his own innovative, creative and idiosyncratic religious mythology, Credo has drawn upon recurring patterns and processes of indigenous African religious life to reproduce an innovative mythology that ranges from the original earth goddess to to the encounters of human beings with aliens from outer space.

credo with alien

Neither the goddess nor the extraterrestrials in this mythology simple preserves African folk religion. Instead against the background of an indigenous religious landscape, these mythological inventions creates new possibilities for African religions in a contemporary world. His representations of African gods and goddesses on monumental scale reflects his vision of them as superhuman which he compares with the vision of westerners viewing themselves as superhuman in context of history and especially in relation to Africa. Just like animals are viewed as subhuman Credo alludes to westerners viewing Africans as subhuman in their exploitation of Africa and its resources. He goes further to explore the irony of extraterrestrials viewing humans as subhumans. As a religious figure representing both indigenous authenticity and innovative applications, his work challenges the superhuman status of western beings in Africa, mediating among superhuman, subhuman and human beings in the world. (Ref David Chidester,p70 – 80)

The Judgement of the Kings (1983)

The Judgement of the Kings (1983)

The Judgement of the Kings (1983) is a large oil painting steeped in ancient Zulu culture. It depicts militant leaders such as Shaka, Hitler, Idi Amin and Napoleon in an African setting. Playing a key role to save their souls, is uMvelinganga,, sun god of Africa, with an eagle face who in the Zulu tradition created the world. In the sky is Nomkhubulwane, the female goddess worshipped by the Nguni people. The bull framed by the the sun is of the Nguni cattle which were revered as the soul of the nation and called “the cattle of the sun.” When one of the Nguni cattle died, its skin was made into two shields for warriors whose loyalty to king was was beyond question and formed part of the king’s body guard.

How the Turtle was forced to work

How the Turtle was forced to work

How the Turtle was forced to work – African people believe the sun is male and therefore static, while the earth is female and therefore mobile and that the earth moves around the sun. They say the sun is a great ball of fire burning on the summit of a great mountain in the middle of a great sea, and that the earth is carried round and round this mountain on the back of a huge turtle known as Chikaka.



Nommo – Humans were created on a world far away from this one, a world which was destroyed by a great war between men and women. The survivors moved to another world where reptile-beings called Nommo lived. These humans started a war between the Nommo and themselves and in that war humans were decimated and only a few left. Two Nommos took pity on the surviving humans and transported them to Earth inside a hollowed out egg, which later hung in the sky as the Noom.

Paul Kruger

Paul Kruger

Paul Kruger – One African legend had it that President Paul Kruger had been brought up by a fabled bird as a baby. One day a Tswana witchdoctor prophesied to Kruger that he would be defeated in battle and overthrown by a woman. Kruger scoffed at this, but in the end he was defeated by Queen Victoria’s soldiers in the Anglo Boer War (1899 – 1902), going into exile in Holland where he died.


Credo Mutwa

Credo Mutwa Village

Credo Sculptures Lives Again

Crop Circles in Africa

Religion, politics, and identity in a changing South Africa,  edited by David Chidester, Abdulkader Tayob, Wolfram Weisse

Thandeka Mtshali, Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa

The impact of ‘hieroglyphics’ on the allegorical art of Renaissance Italy

Hlungwani is Tsonga-speaking and many of his ideas and images combine elements from Tsonga and Christian traditions.

Jackson Hlungwani was born in Nkanyani, Gazankulu, in the northern Transvaal.  He did not go to school, but his father, Mundunwazi, taught him to carve household objects, to sharpen tools and to work with iron. As a child, he spent a lot of time observing the animals, birds and fish around him, while herding cattle with his brothers.

Hlungwane, like so many of his generation spent some time working in Pietersburg (Polokwane) at an asbestos mine and Johannesburg (at a tea and coffee merchant), though returned home after losing a finger in an accident. In 1946 he was ordained into the African Zionist Church.

Zionists marching on Easter Weekend 1970. Photo: Ludo Kuipers.

Christian Zionism is an African Christianity religion. It mixes Christianity and African cultures into one. Zionist worship is singing, dancing to drums and other African musical instruments, possession by the Holy Spirit, and healing of illnesses. Zionist churches brought together elements of Christian and indigenous African religious belief and practice,  mixing African heritage and christian principles. (Ref)

Photo by Gueorgui Pinkhassov

In 1978 while he was employed as a construction worker near Louis Trichardt in the Northern Transvaal a visionary event occurred that which changed his life. In Hlungwani’ s mythology, Satan shot arrows through both of his legs. This caused terrible abscesses on each leg. The one leg eventually healed while the other went from bad to worse . His condition became so painful he decided to kill himself by drinking the poisonous sap of the Nkondze tree.

It was during the night, after this fatal act, that Hlungwani claims to have received his Divine calling. He believes he was visited by Christ and two companions. According to Hlungwani, Christ gave him a triple promise – he would be healed, he would become a healer himself and he would see God pass by. According to Hlungwani, he did see God pass by, or rather God’s feet, visible beneath the clouds and adorned with eggs, walking “in the direction of KwaZulu”

From this point on Hlungwane became a preacher, starting his own sect in the Zionist tradition named ‘Yesu Geleliya One Apostle in Sayoni Alt and Omega’ (Jerusalem One Christ). In Mbhokota, a rural village near Elim in north-westen Gazankulu, he became Xidonkani, the Little Donkey, the mount that brought the Virgin Mary to Bethlehem. There is a very rich sculptural tradition in this area. On a hill, atop which was an Iron Age site, he and his small band of followers began enhancing the intrinsic qualities of the site by creating a Great Zimbabwe like labyrinth of dry packed stonewalls that he called New Jerusalem. On his hill-top sanctuary he built two altars, one for women and one for men, which he embellished with figurative sculptures; he narrated their roles during his religious services and healing procedures. Hlungwani refers to New Jerusalem as the Men’s Church and New Canaan as the Women’s Church. There he also taught his followers and helped the sick. Faith healing, both physical and psychological, remains a central tenet of ‘Pentecostal’ or ‘Zionist’ churches.

Zionist Church Woman being exorcised Photo by Kyle Meyer

Although he had been carving for many years, it was around this time that he began carving a great deal and produced many sculptures. Most of the sculptures were removed from New Jerusalem for a retrospective exhibition held in Johannesburg in 1989. By the beginning of 1993, though the stone structures remained, there were no sculptures left at New Jerusalem, except the Aerial of God. They had all been taken to galleries or sold.

Self-portrait drum – Late 1980’s Silver Cluster Leaf wood (Terminalia sericea) and cowhide

In the self-portrait by Jackson Hlungwani he has transformed himself into a drum, a significant functional object. The shape of the drum reflects that of the traditional African Djembe drum. The Djembe in Africa, was originally created as a sacred drum to be used in healing ceremonies, rites of passage, ancestral worship, warrior rituals, as well as social dances. Self Portrait drum is carved out of wood, just like many of his sculptures. The texture in this sculpture has been reworked to a smooth finely sanded surface, and has been carved from one log and has a fluid unified feeling because of this.

The physical proportions are expressive and simplified. Hlungwane did not use realistic proportions, the shape and size of his sculptures were often related to the shape and size of the piece of wood  it was carved from  as well as the character of the figure, and the symbolism and meanings of the figure that he wanted to to portray. The carving process has been described as “a peeling away, a process of revealing the form.”The style is similar to facial features seen in older examples of Tsonga and Shangaan sculptural forms evident in staffs, bowls and Shangaan storytelling puppets.

The face is clearly carved to portray the shapes of the eyes, nose, mouth, cheek , chin and ears. The features were created through incisions into the wood.The shapes of the eyes were created by incisions representing the outlines of the eyelids and the shape of the mouth and lips are indicated by a curved line, that together with the downcast eyes, gives the appearance of a quiet internal smile, or spiritual contemplation. The shape of the face becomes thinner towards the mouth, chin and long beard carved with rhythmic vertical lines. On both sides of the face are two exaggerated large ears shaped from round relief shapes. The features can also be compared to Romanesque sculptures in Europe. The arms are resting on the belly, but he has turned the arms and hands into serpents. Even the surface has been carved with stylized scales.

In African traditions, drums are symbolic of communication with ancestor and spirit world, as well as carriers of messages of power. Traditionally metaphoric symbols were often carved on drums. By using a drum to portray his self portrait, Hlungwane may refer to the role he sees he had in in his spiritual community, that of a messenger of God, as he explained that his sculptures were as the communication of Christ and the ancestors through him. Hlungwani used his sculptures to preach to his followers about God and African beliefs.

As he works often portrayed a duality in symbolism, essential in his apocalyptic view, opposites were often reflected in his works, such as good and evil and male/female. Looking at the symbolism in his work both traditional and Christian symbolism are therefore part of the interpretation. The symbolism of the snakes, are important symbols in African biblical narrative but also a sign for the ancestors in African understandings.

His arms as serpents or snakes could therefore express both Christian and traditional meanings. In Christian beliefs the snake is linked with the exile from Eden. In traditional Tsonga beliefs there are both good and evil snakes and they are often associated with ancestral spirits. There is for example the powerful water serpent, Nzunzu (Ndhzhundzhu), who allegedly captured the traditional healers are called n’anga, and submerged them in deep waters. They did not drown, but lived underwater breathing like fish. Once their kin had slaughtered a cow for Nzunzu, they were released and emerged from the water on their knees as powerful diviners with an assortment of potent herbs for healing. There is also in Tsonga traditions belief in nyoka, as Tsonga- and Shona-speakers call the invisible snake, or internal “snake”, often described as a power or force of some kind that dwells in the stomach but that can move throughout the upper body. There are said to be two nyokas, one male and one female, and a nyoka may be happy or angry, depending upon the “purity” and “cleanliness” of the body. .His arms as serpents may therefore refer to him as being an instrument of the ancestors, or refer to the Christian aspect of humanity’s choice between performing good or evil acts.

His sculptures took into account two aspects of his life: his Christian beliefs and his Tsonga background. He remains within his craft tradition by using local materials, traditional tools and carving techniques, as well as traditional images, but he combines these with personal and western Christian images.

 Influences and Aims:

Hlungwani’s work cannot be understood outside of a local African Christian context which combines Christian and indigenous African religious belief and practice, African heritage and Christian principles, like other leaders of the over 6 000 African Independent churches in South Africa .  Hlungwani is both a charismatic spiritual leader, a healer and an artist.

Hlungwani’s relationship to African shamanism is not only evident in his work and ideas, but also stems from his position as an initiated healer in a rural Tsonga community. The notions of prophecy and redemption form an integral part of both Christianity and traditional African Shamanism. Hlungwani’ s apocalyptic world view and his idiosyncratic interpretation of Christianity is freely mixed with Tsonga myth and symbology, and he can be seen to straddle both traditions.



His work, was to him the work of God, whom he claimed worked through him. Hlungwani combines aspects of his Tsonga tradition with biblical imagery and his art, can therefore be seen as an expression of his private spiritual world, and served as a functional, communal and dedication to God. His work were meant to represent the spirit of his community; Hlungwane’s Jerusalem.

In particular it is Hlungwani’s apocalyptic vision of human redemption that  is expressed through his art and his teachings. Through  the vision which he claimed to have received from God, he prophesied the advent of an apocalypse which would result in man’s salvation. Most of Hlungwane’s work portrays this visionary message.

The primary meaning of the term ‘Apocalyptic vision’, which dates to 1175,  refers to the Revelation of John (Greek, Apocalypsis Ioannou), the last book of the New Testament. The revelation which John receives is that of the ultimate victory of good over evil and the end of the present age, or End of Times.



He did not produce art for commercial purposes but as an expression of his vision from God. However, while Hlungwani considered himself to be a visionary, he objected to being regarded, as a traditional healer, or shaman on religious grounds.

“African medicine men are dangerous people. The only safe doctors are those of the white people, and African medicine-men who have become Christians”. Jackson Hlungwane

In his view he is a Christian equivalent of a traditional healer. The distinction is important to Hlungwani:

Magical healing practices are used by Satan, but they can be brought back to God. In the book of Genesis, we read of how the Lord created human beings and decided to give them wisdom … Yes, for me who is a Christian, the Bible is my bag of divining bones. While for the traditional healers, the bones are those they throw and consult. I heal them and convert them. From then on, their divining bones and their remedies are again at the service of the original order of things described in the Bible .

Hlungwani however, can also be seen as a traditional shaman as he received the archetypal shamanic calling. After the ‘call’ in shamanic traditions, the individual is transformed through initiation into one who is sacred – a shaman.

Hlungwani is an artist of what is possibly the most ancient kind. As much a visionary, a prophet and a healer as he is maker of objects, he manifests the classic complex of the ‘wounded healer’, the shaman. The shaman, because he has crossed over to, or has access to ‘ the other side'(death), has a special knowledge to impart to the living and special powers with which to serve them. From Ivor Powell; ‘Gazankulu’ s wounded shaman sculpts his strange temples’

A crisis involving an encounter with death is important to shamanic mythology in that the shaman has to symbolically die in order to be spiritually redeemed. The shamanic journey is also called an awakening to another order of reality or “an opening of the visionary realms,” through deep suffering –  at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is when the real message of redemption is going to come.

New God

New God

Hlungwani, like the traditional shaman, experienced his “voice of salvation” at a time of deep suffering when he experienced a close encounter with death. In Hlungwani’s vision, it was God who gave him the message of the coming realisation of peace and harmony, and the passing away of the old order. For Hlungawani the apocalypse, the passing away of the old world, leads to redemption. This redemption will be heralded by the descent of heaven to earth – the realisation of a cosmic harmony.

 Characteristics of His work

It can be said that Hlungwani is a visionary artist whose work and ideas display similarities with two visionary traditions – that of Gothic Christian art and culture, and traditional African shamanism. His sculptures have thematic and stylistic features common to both Gothic sculpture and African traditional sculpture.

God and Christ 1990  Carved and stained wood

God and Christ 1990
Carved and stained wood

Hlungwani’s religious sculptures reflects his strong views and consist of religious and Christian metaphors and Tsongo symbology. Most have an international theme of Christianity and religion that is reminiscent of medieval forms of Christianity or Gothic Christian themes of the Apocalypse. They served as visual cues for his ‘church’ and congregation,  depicting the meanings of his prophesies, and creating a sense of a holy site in his community. Like most traditional African art, his sculptures were functional, in that they served as iconography in his ‘church.’


Stylistically his work displays characteristics of traditional African art in the distortions of proportions and abstractions of form to reflect emotional proportion rather than natural proportions. Many of his sculptures have strong angular edges to forms, with simplified features, such as the angular protrusion of such features as lips, eyes, and nose.

Much of the original shape of the tree trunks he carves his objects from, has been retained in his sculptures and the internal forms and shapes have been utilized in realizing the image. Only hand tools were used, as there was no electricity where Hlungwani lived – adzes and axes to create the broad general shapes, chisels for details and marking patterns, and sandpaper to smooth out some of the rough edges. The texture of his work reflects the natural woodgrain.

Springbok Drinking Water

Springbok Drinking Water

His works like Springbok, Bush devil and Rabbit are viewed by some as modernist non-figurative abstractions, especially because they have  poetic titles.

Sculpture Analysis and Interpretations

New Jerusalem

New Jerusalem

In Hlungwani’s mythology after the Apocalypse there will be the advent of man’s salvation, his return to paradise or Eden. He referred  to this paradise on earth as the New Jerusalem. Hlungwani’s vision of the New Jerusalem is depicted in his work The New Jerusalem (1979) – a large stone sanctuary built on a hill at the edge of his village, Mbhokota. Hlungwani claimed to have received instructions from God to build a temple on this site. His idea of the New Jerusalem as a realisation of his vision of peace is an obvious reference to the Biblical ‘Holy City of Peace ‘ (Revelations 3:12), which symbolises the perfect society and is also a reference to Isaiah’s prophecy of cosmic harmony which looks forward to a return to paradise or Eden:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth … I create Jerusalem … The wolf and the lamb shall feed together … They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain …” (Isaiah, 65:1725).

Hlungwani believed that the apocalypse has already occurred and that his vision of the New Jerusalem came into operation in 1985. This was, he claims, a consequence of Satan’s death. The reason the world still appears unchanged is because Satan’s servants are still active. In Hlungwani’s words: “Satan has disappeared, leaving his servants behind.“

His dualistic world view, is composed of opposites – first and last, beginning and end, life and death, entrance and exit, male and female, left and right, good and evil. These opposites are articulated in the route, and are experienced on the various thresholds and space on the acropolis. (Ref)

The layout of Hlungwani’s New Jerusalem can also be seen as a pilgrimage route. The plan of the New Jerusalem is referred to by Hlungwani as ‘The Map of Life’. It is a route with a beginning and an end, an entrance and an exit, an ascent and a descent. Upon visiting the acropolis one returns via the same route that one came. The beginning and end of the route function as religious metaphors for life, death and spiritual awakening. This idea of the route as a spiritual journey recalls the central idea behind the shamanic trance .

The New Jerusalem site incorporates what is believe to be the ruins of a former Iron Age site, this in itself reminds one of the way European Christian churches were often built on top of sacred pagan sites.

Aerial of God, 1980

Aerial of God, 1980

Hlungwani describes the New Jerusalem as “the centre of the world … the meeting point of  heaven  and earth”  and  the  place  where  “the  laws  of  God  are  being  enacted” At the centre of the New Jerusalem complex, the centre of the centre of the world as it were, one finds Hlungwane’s sculpture the ‘Aerial of God’

This is a cross based on a silver painted telephone  pole which tapers into a complex of smaller crosses and shiny objects at the apex. For Hlungwane this represents an extension of the middle point of the world. It symbolises the three realms of of life, the upper (heaven), the middle ( the realm of the dead) and the lower (the material world). The idea that Hlungwane used a telephone pole (symbol of communication) in this piece which doubles as a cross suggests the linking between heaven and earth or the imminent descent of heaven to earth. Some suggests that Hlungwani has created a powerful metaphor in his work as he turned a “broadcast aerial into a cross and a cross into a broadcast aerial’ thus creating ‘channels of communication with heaven.” (Ref)

Man Riding Fish

Man Riding Fish, Kiaat wood

Hlungwane’s emblematic fish sculptures, usually perched on a carved base drew on the symbol of St. Peter as ‘fisher of men’ popularised as a Christian motif, though the Tsonga – Shangaan women had also incorporated this symbol into the beaded and embroidered ‘nceka’ worn on special occasions, along with water and cosmic imagery linking them to the ancestors and also their trading heritage during their time in Mocambique prior to migration. The Nceka is a cloth worn over the upper body by Tsonga-Shangane women of the north-eastern provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga .


Tsonga ‘nceka’ fish motifs

So, for Hlungwane the fishes were the symbols of Christ and the people of the Northern province. Hlungwane’s Fish sculptures have also been interpreted as symbols of redemption. The Fish sculptures are said to embody his prophecy that “after the apocalypse, man will acquire the freedom and ease of fishes.

In Man Riding Fish, the biblical story of  Jonah, the reluctant prophet and the great fish comes to mind. Looking at Hlungwane’s drum self portrait with its stylized beard, one could interpret this sculpture also as a self portrait reflecting his call from god to prophesy. The character riding riding the great fish indeed has physical characteristics of  Hlungwane with its stylized beard, matted hair and stylized cap. The bulging eyes are traditionally in African art a reflection of a visionary experience. Perhaps Hlungwane also reflected on the aspect of Jonah spending the same amount of time—three days—inside the fish as Jesus did in the tomb, which again brings to mind both the shamanic and christian concept of having to die to a previous life in order to receive redemption. Like Jonah Hlungwane felt himself called to bring a message of redemption to non-believers.

Stylistically the sculpture shares many characteristics with traditional African art.  Both the man and the fish is simplified in form, yet are recognizable as a man and a fish. The man’s features are angular and geometric in form, with only an indication of arms, and hoof-like feet. He uses the natural texture of the wood, with rough edges lightly sanded but not polished. The fish appears to have a rougher texture and seems to be made from a lighter coloured wood, possibly from a different piece of wood. The horizontal lines in the pectoral fins are rhythmically repeated in the tail fin, but the dorsal fins are left unpatterned as simple geometric shapes. Rhythmic line pattern is often found in traditional african art. Both his face and the way the figure is stylized reminds one of African masks and traditional African figurative carvings.

There is a feeling of anticipated movement or unease in the sculpture as the man riding the fish appears to be slightly off-balance, or about to step on the fish. The fish itself appears to be moving through the waters, rather than static, as its tail fin is slightly bent, the mouth slightly open, and the eyes appears to looking upwards.  The stomach of the fish is shaped so that looks like a hull of a boat indicating that it will glide with ease through the water, further adding to an illusion of movement.

Like Hlungwane’s other sculptures Man Riding Fish would also have served as visual cues for his ‘church’ and congregation,  depicting the meanings of his prophesies, and creating a sense or ambiance of a holy site in his community. Like most traditional African art, his sculptures were functional, in that they served as iconography in his ‘church.’

Large Crucifix 1990

Large Crucifix 1990

The idea of a cosmic harmony, the linking of heaven and earth  or God and man, is evident in Hlungwani’s  sculptures  Large  Crucifix (1990) and Adam and the Birth of Eve  (1985-1989).

Large Crucifix is a crucifix with raised arms carved into a tree trunk. It is decorated with a complex series of carvings including an elephant, people and fish at its base. Hlungwani believed that this sculpture symbolises that it is “possible for man to live in harmony with nature.

By placing man in the same space as the Divine, Hlungwani evokes his vision of a cosmic harmony – the union of man and God . The depiction of man’s redemption as an eternal realm where God and man share the same space is an idea that is reminiscent both of William Blake’ s ideas and Gothic art.

In Gothic painting, to portray man’s redemption or the eternal realm, man and God share the same pictorial space. “God and Man, Christ and the Multitudes stood in the same space. The material world was considered as the active body of God, a conception reflected in the sacred buildings of the period and in the artworks that adorned them”

Hlungwani sees man’s salvation as part of the union of opposites. The dualistic nature of Hlunwani vision is reflected in that he often speaks of “man/woman, Adam/Eve, Cain/Abel, black/white, good/evil, old world/new world” This philosophy comes from Isaiah in the Bible

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth … I create Jerusalem … The wolf and the lamb shall feed together … They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain …” (Isaiah, 65:1725).

In Adam and the Birth of Eve, for example, Hlungwani made Adam and Eve into one figure. This was, according to Hlungwani, to symbolise unity. (Ref)

Crucifix (II), 1972

Crucifix (II), 1972

As well as reflecting a similar world view to the Gothic tradition , Hlungwani’s body of work depicts thematic, formal and stylistic features of Gothic art.  Like Gothic art, Hlungwani’s works are based on themes from the Bible. He has done many sculptures of the crucifixion, the angel Gabriel and, the creation of Adam and Eve. It is both the Biblical themes and Hlungwani’s interpretation of these themes which are reminiscent of the Gothic visionary tradition.

Christ on the Cross, Le Devot Christ, 1307

 Hlungwani’s affinity with Gothic form is evident when comparing his work Crucifix II to Gothic representation of the crucifixion such as Christ on the cross (1307). Hlungwani’ s depiction of this theme parallels the conventional depiction of Christ which was, handed down from Medieval times. In this tradition “the anguished bearded Christ” is represented naked except for the loin cloth tied around his waist, his feet crossed and pinned with a single nail”

The image of Christ on the cross shows a similar treatment and stylisation of torso and limbs which are puppet-like in their rigidity and thinness, as well as the thin elongated torso and in the position of the arms on the cross. Hlungwani has also emphasised Christ’s ribcage which is also often found in Medieval crucifixions. The emphasis of the ribcage adds to the agonised depiction of Christ. In Hlungwani’s image Christ’s arms are more or less in line with horizontal unit of the cross. The unnatural position of the arms seems to emphasise the rigidity of the figure. As in most medieval crucifixions the head is tilted forward in agony.

Apart from stylistic details, an important parallel between Hlungwani’ s image and the Medieval images is that that they are not naturalistic portrayals of the human figure. It can be said that these works were formed by the imagination . A primary function of Medieval art was to evoke, in the audience, a sense of the spiritual. In this regard, Hlungwani’s sculptures reveal “surprising re-embodiments of forms and stylistic features identifiable with farflung artistic traditions, for example the Byzantine, the Gothic …”

Hlungwani’s crucifixion however, differs from conventional depictions of the crucifixion in that he has carved a bird above the head of Christ in the place of the standard ‘I. N .R I. ‘ which is an acronym for the latin inscription Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum –  in English –  “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.”  It is also suggests that the bird could be equated with an angel – an idea which is accepted by Hlungwani. However, to him it is more specifically a Rain Bird – a symbol of rain, rich harvests and an abundance of food, as well echoing the shamanic idea that birds are a symbol of transcendence. (Ref)

Hlungwani’s gods leg eggs

God's Leg with Eggs

God’s Leg with Eggs, 1984

God’s Leg’s with Eggs is a sculpture depicting Hlungwane’s vision of God. The sculpture is in a form of a stylised, monumental foot with egg-like shapes carved onto its surface. The relationship between this image and Hlungwane’s own wounded leg is unavoidable as the eggs on God’s shin undoubtedly corresponds to the ulcers on his own.

Profound insight is often gained through great suffering is related to to the shamanic call to healing. This can also be linked to the shamanic idea  that the shaman must be healed first, before he or she is able to heal the community. This also includes the notion that the ‘wound’ which symbolises a spiritual sickness, or the lack of spiritual awareness, must be located in the individual before the collective can be healed.

Hlungwani continued to scald his wound, the one that never heals, throughout his life, with fire. This, he claimed, was to keep the devil out. Hlungwani’s festering wound seemed to symbolise the relationship between suffering and visionary knowledge, ideas which are intrinsic to shamanism. In this way, his wound can be seen as the mark of the shaman – the wounded healer. (Ref)

Large Devil

Large Devil, Silver cluster wood

The Large Devil with its horns and stylized face reminds one of the way Tokoloshe is often depicted in African art. The Tokoloshe is seen as a mischievous and evil spirit that can become invisible by swallowing a pebble. Tokoloshes are called upon by malevolent people to cause trouble for others. Its power extends to causing illness and even death upon the victim. Horns and tail is also characteristic of Christian depictions of the devil, or the personification of evil – that which leads the the believer away from redemption. As this figure could visually depict both the christian devil and the traditional African Tokoloshe, it is an excellent example of the dual influences in Hlungwane’s art and beliefs – that of African Christianity and his traditional Tsongo heritage.

The devil’s form is simplified an abstracted with strong angular aspects of the facial features. The viewer’ s eye is drawn to the face but then the eye is immediately drawn to the proportionality long leg that extends horizontally beyond the body. Despite being out of proportion it visually balances the composition in relation to the head which is about a third of the size of the body. In contrast the arms seems small and almost withered,

In African art the head is often the focus of a sculpture and usually proportionately large, reflecting the African belief that the head is the seat of one’s destiny. Perhaps in Hlungawne’s Large Devil the head could be the seat of evil thoughts and desires. The fact that the body is almost insignificant in the sculpture could be a reflection that the body is merely and instrument of evil thoughts. The large leg is also phallic and serpent like in shape in shape, again reflecting the aspect of evil desire. On the other hand the emphasis on the leg could symbolize his leg wounded by the devil in his vision. “The one that never heals”, and which he had to scald with fire throughout his life, with fire to keep the devil out.


Michelle Coetzee, The Artist as a Visionary, 1996

Gallery 181

John Borman Fine Art

Trudi Makhaya

Revisions – Jackson Hlungwane


What is the definition of Spiritual?

Sibusiso Duma, When we were young, acrylic on board

 ‘ … the way some person lived within his or her historical context a chosen religious ideal in sensitivity to the realm of the spirit or the transcendent’. – Walter Principe

The definition by Principe is the definition from which most current definitions of what is spiritual is derived from. What we understand today as “being spiritual” is actually a relatively new but shifting concept to define that which is purely spiritual as opposed to that which is religious.

The modern connotations of what is spiritual originated from the thoughts of several religious thinkers in their attempts to relocate authentic religion outside or beyond the sphere of churches and institutions. The word spiritual was actual very rare in historical texts. (Ref) The attempt to define what is spiritual is parallel to the development of intellectual thinking, or stems from the time when ordinary mortals first realized that we have the power to inquire into the hidden nature of the universe. In earlier cultures there would have been no need to define what is spiritual. The question, ‘what is spiritual’ is thus really a more modern Western concept.

Zwelethu Mthethwa, Guardian Angels, 2004, Oil pastel on pape

The word spiritual is derived from the Hebrew word Ruach, the  Latin word spiritualitas and the Greek word Pneuma. All three has the original base meaning of ‘moving air’ – whether in the form of breath, a breeze, or violent storm winds, or that which animates life. Most English bibles translates ruach as spirit. Immaterial beings are called ruachot; such ghosts, and angelic beings and spirits. Ruach has also been translated as ‘mind’, in the sense of thoughts, convictions, dispositions, drive even courage. (Ref)

According to the Greek philosopher Anaximenes, “just as our soul (psyche), being air (aer), holds us together, so do breath (pneuma) and air (aer) encompass the whole world.”

With this in mind one can perhaps define spiritual as shifting definition for that which is transcendent, unseen, except in unusual circumstance, but which nonetheless has a visible effect and without which there would be no life.

More useful concepts for defining spiritual:

What is a Belief?

Whatever an individual is willing to subjectively accept without direct verification by experience or without the support of evidence, resulting in assumption which is taken as a basis for action or non-action.

What is a Belief System?

A belief system is the actual set of precepts or principles, upon which a person base and live their daily life, and governs an individual’s thoughts, words, and actions. Without these precepts you could not function.


Allegory is a device in which characters or events represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. Allegory has been used widely through out the history of art, and in all forms of artwork. A reason for this is that allegory has an immense power of illustrating complex ideas and concepts in a digestable, concrete way. For example, this function of the device is possibly most evident in Christian doctrine, where Satan symbolizes evil and God symbolizes good. The concept of goodness is portrayed as a character, and his behaviour and intentions follow suit with this goodness. Therefore, in allegory a message is communicated by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation. Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric; a rhetorical allegory is a demonstrative form of representation conveying meaning other than the words that are spoken.(Ref)

Useful Questions to ask when analyzing Spiritual Art

What does the artist/culture believe?

In order to find out what belief system an artist operates from, or have adopted, certain questions must be asked. The core of what they believe starts with whether they Truly believe in one of the following.

  • A supreme being,

  • Just an existence beyond the physical of some kind

  • Nothing at all.

For those who believe in a Supreme Being, or God, how is the being depicted? How does the being communicate to people things they need to know, do, and be.
Is it that God only talks to a few people, or to everyone ?
Do you think cultural differences and personalities would affect the message?

Credo Mutwa, The Judgement of the Kings (1983)

Spiritual and religious works of art convey a non-verbal message, whichever form it takes, regardless of culture, religion, date or location. In the past, only the highly educated and members of the clergy were able to read. Visual imagery was thus used to convey spiritual ideas to the illiterate masses.

Spiritual Art

Spiritual Art visually depicts and communicates the artist’s spiritual beliefs, or reflects, or oppose, the spiritual doctrines of the ruling ideologies. It often reflects the desire to push “behind the veil of appearance” to the “other side” to seek “the hidden things in nature and life . . . the inner spiritual side of nature and life.” Mystical Art is created through the guidance of a spiritual being, or through visions received by the artist.


One can very well say that most of the art from art history can be classified as spiritual art. It was only with Modernism and the Avant Garde art movements that spiritual art started to reflect the individual’s spiritual views. The first artists that produced cave paintings were likely to have been shamans or priests. Later religious art reflected the doctrine and symbolism of each particular belief system. Yet, just as each of the major religions will have regional interpretations, just so the religious art reflected the particular historical environment, culture and spiritual interpretations of their beliefs.

Christ Pantocrator, early 17’th century. Portable Icon. Work of Jeremiah Palladas Collection of the 4th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities of the Dodecanese.

Early cultures used artwork to worship divine beings, and in the Middle Ages, artwork was used to canonize religious themes and spiritual leaders. During the Renaissance period, painted images began to gradually move away from society’s spiritual ideologies and become more and more individual. In modern times, artists have become completely independent from societal ideologies, and instead of communicating the realities of life, artwork has become a means for the artist to communicate personal ideologies and spiritual themes through visual and other elements. (Ref)

African Art

Lydenberg head, ca. A.D. 500-700

As Spirituality is always culturally formed and informed and the formation of spirituality is always cultural-contextual, Africa’s beliefs and religions reflects its multi-cultural context. Africa is a vast continent, incorporating a wide variety of cultures and ethnic groups. Northern Africa differs totally from Southern Africa.

Traditional African Beliefs

In traditional Africa life is not divided into compartments, with separate “spiritual” and “secular” components. Life as such is spiritual.

In (traditional) Africa, there is no division and/or differentiation between the animate and inanimate, between the spirit and matter, between living and non-living, dead and living, physical and metaphysical, secular and sacred, the body and the spirit, etc. Most Africans generally believe that everything (human beings included) is in constant relationship with one another and with the invisible world, and that people are in a state of complete dependence upon those invisible powers and beings. Hence, Africans are convinced that in the activities of life, harmony, balance or tranquillity must constantly be sought and maintained. AA Berinyuu

It has been suggested that African spiritual beliefs can be depicted as a triangle. At the top, head of all powers, is the Supreme Being. On the sides are the two greatest powers, gods and ancestors. Man is in the middle , and must live in harmony with all powers that affect his life, family and work. At the base are lower forces, with which magic and medicine are concerned. Ubunye (the unity of all reality) is kept intact through Amandla (power), which in turn operates within Ubuntu (community). In African spirituality it is all about the maintenance of equilibrium and therefore guarding against the loss of power.

Sibusiso Duma, Inkanyamba

Sibusiso Duma, Inkanyamba (According to traditional Xhosa beliefs, a strong winds takes the form of a giant winged snake, known as inkanyamba. This being lives in deep water and flies through the air, looking for its mate.)

Traditional African religion is based on oral traditions, which means that the basic values and way of life are passed from elders to younger generation. The elders are the final authority and are trusted completely. These traditions are not religious principles, but a cultural identity that is passed on through stories, myths and tales. (Ref)

Myth and symbol, ritual and rhythm determine everyday life in the African context.  The way people relate to the environment and the nature of inter-personal relationships are all part of the spiritual make-up of Africans. There exists a very thin line between the religious and the cultural phenomena in African cosmology. Religion and culture are inextricably intertwined. Most of the religious rituals are appropriated into the cultural scheme of things and the cultural domain shapes and influences the religious philosophy and practices.

Trevor Makhoba, “Circumcision”

Trevor Makhoba, “Circumcision”

Issues of moral behavioural patterns; natural plagues and disasters; familial inter-connectedness; domestic animals; fields (the land ethic) and several rites are directly linked to particular events in the life of the individual and the community together.

Lonyana Rock, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.

In traditional African religion the community is the most important part of someone’s life. This community is made up of people who remember and share the same traditions. This sense of unity with(in) the universe has been embedded in African spirituality since the dawn of time. It is depicted on many of the rock paintings that can be found throughout Southern Africa. In the example found at Lonyana Rock in KwaZulu-Natal the community is dancing around a sick person lying under a karos (animal skin). But the living animals are also there – the food stock. They seem to be moving in and out of the circle. Here, in one artwork, we find community, child care (women accompanying children), religion (expressed in the dance), medicine, work (hunting), etc. in an intertwined spirit of holism. This is indeed African spirituality. (Ref)

Sangoma throwing bones

There are spiritual leaders,who are the equivalent of shamans and priests  in most traditional African religions. These traditional healers have to be called by ancestors. They undergo strict training and learn many skills, including how to use herbs for healing and other, more mystical skills, like the finding of a hidden object without knowing where it is. (Ref)

Although traditional African religion recognises a Supreme God, followers do not worship him or her directly. They therefore ask the ancestors to communicate on their behalf. The Supreme Being is called upon in times of great hardship and need, like drought or epidemic that may threaten the entire community. The Supreme Being is the connection between people and their environment.

Ancestor worship

Ancestor worship and belief is an extension of a belief in and respect for elders. Followers of traditional African religion believe that ancestors maintain a spiritual connection with their living relatives.

Most ancestral spirits are generally good and kind. The only negative actions taken by ancestral spirits is to cause minor illnesses to warn people that they have gotten onto the wrong path. To please these unhappy ancestors, usually offerings of beer and meat are made. (Ref)

Adolphus Opara’s large-format, painterly images of diviners from regions of South-western Nigeria

African ritual art and artefacts

African art is a term typically used for the art of Sub-Saharan Africa, as the art of the North African areas along the Mediterranean coast has long been part of different traditions and for more than a millennium has mostly formed part of Islamic art, although with many particular characteristics. The Art of Ethiopia, with a long Christian tradition, is also different from that of most of Africa, where Traditional African religion(with Islam in the north) was dominant until relatively recently. (Ref)

As opposed to most Western art, African art serves a particular function rather than Art for Arts sake. The object may confer status, or serve a function that may be ceremonial, sacred, or practical. In the cycles of life, the rites of passage between them, are important as events for which objects are made.

Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi). Democratic Republic of the Congo. KaKongo Kongo artist, 19th century. Wood, iron, glass mirror, resin, pigment

For example, African spirituality is about power and empowerment, and often also the disempowerment of your enemies. This can also clearly be seen in African art. In the Congo, for instance, there are sculptures called nkisi nkondi (power figures). An nkisi nkondi serves as a container for potent ingredients used in magic and medicine in judicial and healing contexts. To make an nkisi nkondi, a carver begins by sculpting a male human or animal figure with a cavity in the abdomen. Then a ritual expert completes the work by placing ingredients with supernatural powers on the object and in the cavity provided. He activates the figure by breathing into the cavity and immediately seals it off with a mirror. Nails and blades are driven into the figure, either to affirm an oath or to destroy an evil force responsible for an affliction or disruption of the community. The pose, with hands on hips, symbolizes the nkondi’s readiness to defend a righteous person and to destroy an enemy. (Ref)



Most masks are made not to look like real human faces. They are usually designed and created to provide somewhat of a shock value. They tend to convey various emotions such as sadness, anger or suspicion.

They play very different roles to the various tribes across the continent. They are normally kept in a safe- or sacred place, only to be brought out for important occasions and ceremonies.

Masks were and still are usually worn during various celebrations such as weddings, funerals, initiation ceremonies, and to entertain important visitors.

African masks are normally worn by men, however in some cultures women also own and perform in masks. One example will be during a ritual that initiates them into female society.

Masks can be worn on the head as helmets covering the entire head or as acrest, resting on top of the head, or simply a mask.

Niagara African Dancing Mask

The most common use of the African mask involves ritual dancing. This involves the dancer wearing a mask and full costume. Often there is singing and music in these rituals and the mask becomes a strong spiritual force. During some of these ritual dances, because of the power certain masks possess, some people are not allowed to look at them. (Ref)

Female Face Mask. Chokwe peoples, DR Congo or Angola. ca. 1930s. | Wood,pigment, reeds and fiber.

Main Visual Characteristics

Ife head, Ife, 12th-14th century.

There should be a balance between resemblance and likeness; a figure, for example, should be identifiable as a man, but not identifiable as a specific man. An object that bears a resemblance to the original model draws power from the original, which is desired, but not to be overdone. Individual portraiture is considered presumptuous and dangerous, because of the power that the object may contain.

Pendant Mask, Lyoba, Nigeria

Clarity of line and form. This gives the powerful graphic quality that is so characteristic of African art, and so attracted early European modernists. Strong angular edges to forms, smoothly polished planes and curves, and the angular protrusion of such features as lips, eyes, and nose accentuate these features.

Igbo Mask, Nigeria

Igbo Mask, Nigeria

Proportion; In much of African Art, proportions are scaled according to conceptual significance rather than the physical size. Thus the meaning and function of the object requires that emotional proportion supersede natural proportions. The head, for example in figure carvings, is often one-fourth the size of the body because in many African societies it is considered to be the seat of one’s destiny. It also provides a larger surface for culturally significant details that are conveyed through facial expressions, hairstyles, jewelry or scarification. In figural groups, the larger figures are clearly the most important.

Nok terracotta, 6th century BC–6th century CE

Gesture and Expressions; The stance or facial expression of a sculpted figure often conveys clues into its meaning and significance. Hands resting on the abdomen may suggest the capacity to bear children. Downcast eyes may express dignity and poise, introspection and attention to a world beyond our own, while glaring eyes and a gaping mouth can signify power, trance (especially with bulging eyes), aggression or a call to action. (Ref)

Texture; Artwork’s surface can be smooth from frequent handling or textured from tool marks, paint or added materials. A sticky-looking object may have  received offerings at a shrine, its surface suggesting ritual use. objects that are densely covered with horns or porcupine quills, mud and other materials may represent powers from nature. By contrast a serene figure with polished surface may portray  someone who is stylish, civilized and cultured.

Colour and Pattern; Colours are frequently symbolic of important messages, though the meanings will vary from culture to culture. The most common colours used in African art are red, white and black.  Patterns which may also vary in meaning from culture to culture, provide insights into personal style and culturally specific aesthetics.

Spatial Relationships; How does the artwork relate to the space around it? Was it intended to stand on its own or was it once part of something else – like a place on a shrine? (Ref)

It is considered proper that persons be only depicted in the prime of life. For example, a memorial figure of an ancestor who died in old age must be shown as a young and vigorous person; to do otherwise would be insulting and also possibly dangerous.

The idea of the interrelatedness of forms is expressed through images that carry double, or even triple meanings. This idea reflect the religious idea that spiritual forces inhabit all of nature, all of which is interconnected. For example, a carved headdress from the Ibo people of Nigeria can be seen as a human torso, a bird, or a ram. These visual “puns” carry spiritual as well as humorous meanings.

Some African people do not designate aesthetic qualities at all. Since sculptures are consecrated and holy, all are considered equally beautiful, and it is therefore sacrilegious to pass judgement on the relative merits of particular items. (Ref)

Australian Aboriginal art

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

Australian Indigenous art is the oldest ongoing tradition of art in the world. Initial forms of artistic Aboriginal expression were rock carvings, body painting and ground designs, which date back more than 30,000 years. Present day Aboriginals are descended from several groups that came to Australia via Asia when the land bridge still existed.

Art has always been an important part of Aboriginal life, connecting past and present, the people and the land, and the supernatural and reality. It includes works in a wide range of media including painting on leaves, wood carving, rock carving, sculpture, ceremonial clothing and sandpainting.

 Aborigines of all tribes painted and engraved on caves, rock, bark, sand, didgeridoos,  boomerangs and their huts, opossum fur coats & their bodies. Most art was meaningful.   Art was used in place of a written language to instruct in tribal law, religion and history. Each area of Australia has its traditional style of Art and Painting. Dot art is the traditional form of painting around a relatively small area of the Northern Territory and the eastern part of Western Australia. X-ray Art mainly comes from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. (Ref)

Aboriginal Rock Art, Anbangbang Rock Shelter, Kakadu National Park, Australia


Often, aboriginal designs illustrate the “Dreamings” that underpin Aboriginal spiritual and cultural life. The human and other natural and animal images of Aboriginal art are representative of stories and/or dreams handed down from generation to generation. In Aboriginal art animal images, earth colours, and  drawing in patterns of dots, lines, and shapes are characteristic.(Ref)


Aboriginal symbols are an essential part of a long artistic tradition in Australian Aboriginal Art and remain the visual form to retain and record significant information. Aboriginal people used symbols to indicate a sacred site, the location of a waterhole and the means to get there, a place where animals inhabit and as a way to illustrate Dreamtime stories. Since Aboriginal people traveled vast distances across their country, significant information was recorded using symbols in regular ceremony. Sand painting and awelye (body painting) ceremonies kept the symbols alive and remembered. Later, these symbols were transformed into a more permanent form using acrylic on canvas but the meanings behind the symbols remains the same. Generally the symbols used by Aboriginal Artists are a variation of lines, circles or dots. Similar symbols can have multiple meanings and the elaborate combination of these can tell complex Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories. (Ref)

Aboriginal symbols

Denis Nelson Jupurrula, Kangaroo, Rain, Flying Ant, Possum Dreaming

This painting by Denis Nelson Jupurrula is a good example of an Aboriginal painting rich in Aboriginal symbols. This painting is titled Kangaroo, Rain, Flying Ant, Possum Dreaming. The bottom left of the painting shows the kangaroo tracks around a campfire (white circle). The smoke (white line) rises from the fire into the sky creating rain clouds (purple sky with symbols for rain). In the centre of the painting is the flying ant which migrates to form a new colony when the rains come. The possum tracks are shown on the left side of the painting in the yellow section. The U shape reflects the mark left behind by a person. Groups of U shapes would indicate a meeting place for aboriginal people sitting around a campsite.

Patterns of dots are used to represent many Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories – including stars or native berries. Aboriginal artists often use the technique of over-dotting to obscure meaning and to mask certain symbolism. (Ref)

Buddhist Art and Artifacts

Footprint of the Buddha. 1st century, Gandhara.

Buddhist art originated on the Indian subcontinent following the historical life of Siddhartha Gautama, 6th to 5th century BC, and thereafter evolved by contact with other cultures as it spread throughout Asia and the world. (Ref)

Aims of Buddhist Arts

Traditional Buddhist arts are intended to be reminders and inspiration pointing the individual towards the Buddhist principles, with no interest in personal fame or originality for its own sake, as this would be counter to Buddhist practice. Traditional Buddhist art forms were made to complement and enhance traditional practices found in temples, monasteries, centres, hermitages, the home and places of retreat.

These art forms can include wall and scroll paintings, sculpture, carvings, textiles, hand crafted ritual implements, illustrated sacred texts and poetry.


Early Buddhism did not portray the Buddha himself and may have been aniconic. The Buddha was only represented through symbols such as an empty throne, Bodhi tree, a riderless horse, Buddha’s footprints, and the dharma wheel. This reluctance towards anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha, and the sophisticated development of aniconic symbols to avoid it (even in narrative scenes where other human figures would appear), seem to be connected to one of the Buddha’s sayings, that discouraged representations of himself after the extinction of his body (Ref)

An aniconic representation of Mara’s assault on the Buddha, with an empty throne, 2nd century, Amaravati, India

Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist art frequently makes use of a particular set of eight auspicious symbols, in household and public art. These symbols have spread with Buddhism to many cultures’ arts, including Indian, Tibetan, Nepalese, and Chinese art. (Ref)

These symbols are:

The boy Buddha rising up from lotus. Crimson and gilded wood, Trần-Hồ dynasty, Vietnam, 14th-15th century

1.Lotus flower. Representing purity and enlightenment.

2. Endless knot, or, the Mandala. Representing eternal harmony.

3.The golden fishes symbolises the auspiciousness of all living beings in a state of fearlessness, without danger of drowning in the ocean of sufferings, and migrating from place to place freely and spontaneously, just as fish swim freely without fear through water.

4. The golden wheel symbolises the auspiciousness of the turning of the wheel of Buddha’s doctrine, both in its teachings and realizations, in all realms and at all times, enabling beings to experience the joy of wholesome deeds and liberation.

5. The treasure vase symbolises an endless rain of long life, wealth and prosperity and all the benefits of this world and liberation.

6. The umbrella or parasol representing detachment from illusion, representing the crown, and protection from the elements.

7. The conch as a symbol which fearlessly proclaimed the truth of the dharma. It stands for the fame of the Buddha’s teaching, which spreads in all directions like the sound of the conch trumpet.

8. Victory Banner. Representing a victorious battle.

In later periods both the major schools of Buddhism have made great use of representational art, though Theravada temples and other sites typically concentrate on a single large sculpture of the Buddha, whereas Mahayana temples have larger numbers of images of a greater variety of figures with varying degrees of spiritual significance. However some schools, such as Zen Buddhism in Japan, have also shown a general tendency towards aniconism, though without specific prohibition of figurative images.

A statue of the Buddha from Sarnath, 4th century CE

Mexican religious art

Mexican Ex-Votos

Small tin paintings known as retablos (literally, “behind the altar”) were often displayed in the homes of devout Catholics in Mexico to honor patron saints. Near the end of the nineteenth century, the increased availability of colour lithographs and other inexpensive reproductions contributed to the decline of this tradition, but one form of retablo, the ex-voto, continues to be produced today by artists in a variety of media.

Ex-votos (from the Latin, meaning “according to a vow”) are offered to give thanks for an answered prayer. This testimonial, while a personal expression of gratitude, contributes to a public affirmation of belief since votive paintings are displayed in churches. There they testify to the efficacy of ritual as well as to the power of faith and the particular church or shrine. A dedication or description of the pictured event is typically written below the painting. (Ref)

From Chucuito, Puno, Peru, Triptych with Virgin of Purification and various Saints. Early XIX century

This art form is found throughout Latin America, though Mexico particularly is known for its use of tin as the painting surface. The Peruvian retablos is normally in the form of three-dimensional wooden boxes, populated by a variegated world of gypsum figures. typically with peaked roofs.

Peruvian Retablo

Origins of the traditions

The tradition of offering a votive object to a god or a holy personage in thanks or petition dates back, in Europe, at least to the ancient Greeks. The Spanish brought the tradition to the Americas. Similar practices have been common in other parts of the world as well.

Retablos with their images of saints served the church’s desire to spread Christianity. Ex-voto paintings are said to have developed out of the need to express problems and concerns of the villagers or townspeople.

Ex-voto, 1894, oil on tin, Inscription; Luz Orosco became gravely ill with typhoid. She invoked the Most Holy Mother of Light and and became healthy, and in proof of gratitude offers this (ex-voto).


Retablos emphasized certain attributes of the saints and were typically copies of other saint images. The imagery of ex-votos, however, was created in response to the expressed desires of the person ordering the painting; style and subject varied greatly.

Ex-voto, 1890, oil on tin, Inscription; On the 31st day of March,1890, finding herself at the doors of the grave, Doña Jesus Coronel for reason of giving birth to a child and not finding any remedy, her husband Juan Pineda, with a true heart, prayed to the Most Holy Virgen Virgin of Sorrows that is venerated in the Santuario de Paila, and (thus) healed and in an act of thanks dedicates this retablo.

The bold use of colours in crafts and other constructions extends back to pre-Hispanic times. These were joined by other colours introduced by European and Asian contact, always in bold tones. Design motifs vary from purely indigenous to mostly European with other elements thrown in. Geometric designs connected to Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past are prevalent, and items made by the country’s remaining purely indigenous communities. Motifs from nature are popular, possibly more so than geometric patterns in both pre-Hispanic and European designs.(Ref)

Doña Josefa Peres Maldonado offers this monument of her gratitude to the Most Holy Christ of Encino, venerated in the Church of Triana, and to the Most Holy Virgin Mary of El Pueblo, in perpetual memory of the benefit, due to her piety, that resulted from an operation that took place on 25th of April 1777, when the surgeon Don Pedro Maillé removed six cancerous tumors from her breast, in the presence of the gentlemen and ladies depicted on this canvas. Although the wound closed perfectly on the 25th of July 1777, other accidents befell her from which she died on Friday, the 5th of September, at 3 p.m., with clear signs of the patronage of the Holy Image and of her salvation.

Virgin of Guagalupe

Symbolism and mysticism may seem part of an earlier time, but in Mexico City, notions of magic and spirituality are very prominent pieces of a contemporary lifestyle.  Since 1531 the Virgin of Guagalupe has become the most powerful symbol for Mexicans, and her image is seen throughout the Americas as a figure of hope, peace, and salvation.

Lady of Guadalupe

The Virgin of Guadalupe was absolutely fundamental in the creation of modern Mexico – a uniting force in a tumultuous time of European conquest.  The European Catholic image of the Virgin Mary assumes characteristics of the indigenous religion to create a unique mix of two traditions, like the culture of modern Mexico. La Virgen appeared to a young indigenous man on Tepeyac Hill in 1531 and now, each year, thousands of pilgrims embark on a pilgrimage to honour the woman referred to as the Queen of Mexico.  Pilgrims come from all walks of life and each has their own interpretation on the meaning of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Some pilgrims ascend the hill on their knees to show extreme devotion and penitence, others travel as families. (Ref)

Mexican Ex-votive


Aboriginal Art Treasures

Aboriginal Art Online

Aboriginal Art Store


African Spirituality

D. Alexander, Buddhism and the Arts

David E. Anderson, Anecdotes of the Spirit

All About African Art

Brooklyn Museum of Art

Johan Cilliers, Formations and Movements of Christial Spirituality in Urban African Contexts

Fowler Museum at UCLA

Hebrew Streams, Ruach Studies

How to Look at African Art

Charlotte Jirousek, African Art

Mariolina Salvatori, University of Pittsburgh

South African History – Traditional Beliefs