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A Durban designer’s unique work was a real head-turner at the London Olympics and it will be back on show again for the capital’s Paralympics.
Thousands of visitors who flocked to South Africa’s hospitality centre on the banks of the River Thames at Southbank Centre, near the London Eye, were fascinated by Magda van der Vloed’s eye-catching colourful work on display at the “Beautiful Things” exhibition, which was organised by the South African Department of Arts and Culture.
Some 50 artists, crafters and groups from all over South Africa were selected to showcase their techniques, skills and materials – there were several from Durban and KZN – at the Ekhaya (Home Away From Home) Centre, run by the Department of Sport and Recreation in collaboration with the Department of Arts and Culture, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation and Brand South Africa.
But it was one of Van der Vloed’s pieces – a dramatic, colourful trophy head – that had visitors whipping out their cameras and commenting.
The head was fashioned from galvanised wire as well as recycled and crocheted plastic shopping bags.
The crocheted “granny blanket” idea brought back memories of her childhood and Van der Vloed said nothing was more typically South African than a granny blanket.
Another of her animals had dried branches coming out of the head, while another display showed colourful domestic cleaning containers which had been transformed into vases.
The Beautiful Things brochure explained that Van der Vloed’s work had a “tongue in cheek playfulness” and that her “funky, wacky and extraordinary vision” was helping to forge a new visual South African identity.
“I was honoured to be asked to take part in the Olympics display,” said Van der Vloed.
She exports most of her work around the world and when the Daily News visited her last week, she was preparing another trophy head for a Lebanese client.
Hailing from a farm in a small town (Jan Kemp Dorp) near Kimberley in the Northern Cape, she said she loved doing trophy heads as “for me, they are so typically South African”.
She studied art in Pretoria where ceramics was her main subject and moved to Durban 10 years ago.
When she is not making trophy heads and other signature items for her clients, she is consulting and product developing.
Van der Vloed has been called in by several organisations, including the UN, Unesco and the American-based, Aid to Artisans, to work with crafters in remote areas who have expert skills and abilities, but, because they do not know what the market wants, continue to produce the same outdated items year after year.
She has been to Mozambique’s rural areas countless times helping crafters, seeing what material is available to them and coming up with marketable ideas using wood, copper and even fish scales.
Back home in Durban, she developed a process to turn her trophy heads into sought-after items.
She works with three crafters who make a base with galvanised wire.
Then she adds very thick telephone wire, which has been custom-made to her specifications… and she has also come up with a unique process of putting vintage-style 1950s and 1960s ceramic transfers on to the heads.
“It took me a long time to figure out,” she said, adding that the process gives her an edge.
Van der Vloed exhibits at international design shows and won an award for “the most beautiful object” at Maison & Objet in Paris for one of her trophy heads last September.
She is currently exhibiting at the Everard Read Gallery in Rosebank (where the controversial Jacob Zuma portrait was on display) where she is showcasing her work with “the top 100 designers and artists in South Africa”.
She sees this as an important exhibition as “it takes my work from craft items to art, which is where I want to be”.
Recycling appears to be a family skill too as Magda’s sister-in-law, Eunice van der Vloed, has just launched a range of jewellery made from recycled milk bottles.
She runs a coffee shop called Exhibit at 4a Dale Road, near the University of KZN, and gets through six to eight litres of milk a day.
A silversmith, she said that turning her hand to making jewellery out of plastic milk bottles – she cuts and manipulates them – enables her to cut down on her waste as well as add a new line to her jewellery offerings.
She is planning a bridal show incorporating her milk range collection in October.
* To contact Magda van der Vloed, e-mail email@example.com.
* To get in touch with Exhibit, call 031 261 8162.