Sincerity, Authenticity and the Artistic Imperative in contemporary Zulu indlamu dance costume



Fashion, Jewellery & Textile Design


  • authenticity, tribal costume


Historically, the Zulu indlamu costume is a traditional battle dress. Over the years, it has come to constitute a significant feature of contemporary theatre stages in South Africa. Like other traditional forms that have made the transition from original functionality into the realm of art as education and entertainment, its accompanying costumes and regalia have aided the process. Together with these iconic costumes and related regalia, the indlamu dance continues to play a prominent role in the propagation of Zulu art and cultural identity. In this paper, we focus on contemporary Zulu indlamu costume in terms of how contemporary designers have been able to strike a fine balance between sincerity and the artistic imperative within a form that has traditionally relied on authenticity for effect. Our point of departure is the supposition that whether as art or as cultural propagation, the effectiveness of indlamu is to a considerable extent reposed in the sincerity and authenticity of the regalia. Our purpose is to investigate the extent to which contemporary designers have been able to strike an effective balance between sincerity, authenticity and the artistic imperative, especially in those instances when the dance is transported out of its original context and presented as education and/or entertainment.

Our investigation and analysis are particularly interested in finding out how a form whose basis is in war and tradition has transited into the realm of the artistic through costume design, as well as the challenges, innovations and alterations that have been effected to maintain sincerity and authenticity in attaining the artistic imperative. In arriving at a conclusion, we adopt Lionel Trilling’s (1972) twin notions of sincerity and authenticity. According to Trilling, authenticity refers to the ability to ‘stay true to oneself’ while sincerity refers to a way of acknowledging that even if something need not be given aesthetic or intellectual admiration as the best or the original, “it was at least conceived in innocence of heart” (1972, p. 6). We rely on a qualitative methodology, which involved direct observation, as well as interviews with several Zulu cultural practitioners and other theatre design experts.

Keywords: Costume, sincerity, authenticity, artistic, transition, identity


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