IN celebration of the life and work of 100-year-old artist Barbara Tyrell, the Durban Art Gallery is hosting an exhibition from the Campbell Collections of the University of KwaZulu-Natal called Iqholo Le Afrika.

This centenary celebration honours and pays respect to Tyrell.

In celebration of her 100th birthday in March this year, the exhibition was first displayed at Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town.

Tyrell’s exhibition is a collection of her paintings and sketches of the traditional costumes (imvunulo) of southern Africa’s diverse indigenous cultures.

Tyrell, who is now based in Cape Town, was born in Durban and grew up in Eshowe, Zululand, which explains why she is so connected to Zulu culture. It was her mother who insisted she, along with her siblings, speak proper Zulu and not “fanagalo” (a simple mix of languages based on Zulu, with English and a touch of Afrikaans. It was spoken on the mines). Tyrell learned about Zulus and their culture from an early age, and deeply respects their traditions and way of life, which is evident in her magnificent paintings.

Tonight caught up with the curator of Iqholo Le Afrika, Vusi Buthelezi, to find out what the exhibition represents.

“The aim of the exhibition is to portray African costumes which were very popular in the late 1930s. An African collector commissioned Barbara to record the African costumes. She started to record these costumes from the eastern part of southern Africa, KZN, and then went to Zimbabwe. She recorded most of the southern African including Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu, and even recorded cultures from Zambia.

“One of the expectations of the exhibition is to invite African fashion designers and anthro- pologists and artists so that they can debate the work. Also, one of the aims is not so much about bringing new styles of how Africans would dress, but to work within the conviction of understanding the value of art.”

A statement from the Durban Art Gallery said: “It is always common that we honour our heroes and heroines after they die.

However, the partnership of the Campbell Collection, UKZN, KZN Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation and the City’s Durban Art Gallery chose to respect this icon while she is still alive.”

The Campbell Collection comprises more than 700 pieces of Tyrell’s original artworks. Some of these works were commissioned by her friend and patron, Dr Killie Campbell, while other works have been collected by the institution through purchase and donation.

• Barbara Tyrell’s centenary exhibition Iqholo le Afrika ends on November 1 at the Durban Art Gallery, City Hall, Anton Lembede Street. Call 031 311 2263.