Talk the Talk: Traditional Doll Making practice in KwaZulu-Natal


Media & Communications Design


  • handicrafts, indigenous design, visual communication


Full Title: Talk the Talk: How Rural Craftswomen mediate Social Agency through Traditional Doll Making practice in KwaZulu-Natal

In her paper Kate Wells will discuss some of the pertinent theories, methodologies and evaluation modes which underpinned her research with a small group of rural traditional craftswomen from KwaZulu-Natal.

Most of the craftswomen in the Siyazama project have attempted to circumvent some of the prescribed societal and cultural requisites with regard to respectable behaviour for Zulu women: in the midst of the current dangerous AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Kate’s PhD Social Anthropology (University of KwaZulu-Natal) research project, completed in 2007, examined in detail the impact of hlonipha, a Zulu word meaning ‘avoidances and taboos’ which is also the code of conduct to which most rural communities in KwaZulu-Natal subscribe. Her paper will show how the traditional craftswomen employed their own inherent traditional medium of expression; beaded cloth doll and tableau making, to exercise their rights as women, and to ‘speak’ openly on sensitive, traumatic and taboo topics.

The project, through linking visual communication with health education, has for the past decade led to enhancing and building a link between visual communication and anthropology which has led to cultural affirmation, confidence building and a degree of economic empowerment on behalf of the craftswomen and their rural families and communities. She will show how this intervention has provided a reliable and effective method of messaging on AIDS.

The paper will also detail the crucial imperative of an understanding of gender and power relations in rural KwaZulu-Natal as this can provide a more culturally sensitive basis for designing and implementing meaningful developmental approaches which will ultimately empower women to have greater control over their lives, physically and financially.

The Siyazama (Zulu for ‘we are trying’) Project beaded collection, which has been collected and archived since 1999, contains numerous artifacts which provide three dimensional evidence of the prevalence of rape in rural communities, opinions on virginity testing, the role of the isangoma (Zulu for traditional healers) and the serious, life-threatening dilemma facing the makoti (Zulu for married woman) in an era of AIDS. The paper will be showcasing and discussing some of these issues in detail.

In closing she will briefly discuss the role of the project for the future and how it, in 2007, has been implemented more widely as a developmental art and health strategy with rural craftspeople in Uganda, East Africa.

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