HE is a humble man from a rural area who grew up uneducated, but one whose natural artistic talent is beginning to make waves on the commercial art scene.

“I never went to school or studied art but I knew that I wanted to do something art related.

“I started out as a boy making a toy car out of wire because my parents couldn’t afford to buy me toys. When I took my car out to play with other kids they complimented me on how nice it looked,” explained Zamani Madonsela, from KwaZulu-Natal’s Thukela (Tugela) Valley.

Zamani is one of dozens of people at the Mdukatshani Development Trust who are weaving their way onto the art scene across South Africa.

Once confined to their rural surrounds, the weavers, who are involved in the Threads of Africa project, now find themselves travelling the country with their bowls and bangles woven out of metals, including 18-carat gold.

They work in Joburg at times and are off to Cape Town for The Earth is Watching Us exhibition.

“Going to Cape Town is very exciting for us because it’s a chance for us to see the city for the first time. The exhibition is a chance for our work to be seen and noticed by the world and that is a real honour,” said Zamani.

Zamani said weaving is the only way that he makes a living.

“I have a huge family, which consists of five children who are all going to school. As the sole breadwinner I have to provide for them and that is not always easy.

“Zulu art is unique and diverse. You can make a bangle out of beads or clay, mats out of grass or plastic, which means that it’s never limited.

“Usually, pots are made of clay but now we can use gold or copper, which gives them a rich glow and defines their beauty,” he said.

The Threads of Africa project dates back to 2002 when Julia Meintjes of Julia Meintjes Fine Art was commissioned to assemble a collection for a Sydney-based corporate with mining links in South Africa.

Meintjes said when the company MD saw a bowl woven in copper made by an artist from Mdukatshani, he asked if this could be done using gold.

“The trouble was that we needed a small quantity of gold and for someone to make 300g of gold wire takes a lot of effort because you are working with fine proportions.

“Also, in South Africa you have to have a licence to work with gold. Fortunately, we managed to find a company that could do this,” she explained.

Just over two years later, the first small 18-carat gold bowl was completed by Mzo Dladla.

“There is no archaeological evidence of an 18-carat gold wire bowl throughout Africa, as far as archaeological research goes.

“The bowl has been brought back from Sydney for the exhibition,” Meintjes added.

Other bowls and bangles, woven from different metals, some of gold, others of a combination of gold, copper, silver, brass and shakudo (a Japanese metal made of gold and copper) will be on show.

Meintjes said at the moment they only make bowls and bangles but that they are experimenting with other forms.

“We are trying to extend what we are doing. The exhibition is just a lunch to get feedback from people and see how it works out. But watch this space.”

She said they have been talking about taking the exhibition to KZN and Joburg.

“Once we see how this exhibition pans out, we’d like to set up connections in the other provinces. It is something we have been talking about,” she said.

l The Earth is Watching Us opens to the public today at Gold of Africa Barbier Mueller Museum at 96 Strand Street. For more information on the exhibition call 021 405 1540 or for more on the Threads of Africa project visit www.threadsofafrica.co.za