The Oyster Box Collection brings together a wide selection of work by South African artists. New as well as older works can be found throughout the hotel in the public spaces such as restaurants, bars and The Spa, as well in the rooms, suites and villas. The Tollman family has always collected and supported the work of contemporary South African artists. The collection was curated by Yvette Dunn from Durban and Michael Stevenson in Cape Town.
The largest body of work is the vibrant and exciting collection of paintings by contemporary Zulu-speaking artists from KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The paintings are a colourful visual description of the traditional folk tales, myths and daily lives of the people of KwaZulu-Natal. Their narrative style is of vital importance in understanding South African history and specifically Zulu culture. Storytelling as a means of transferring knowledge and skills from generation to generation is an inherent part of Zulu culture, as is immediately apparent in these paintings.
There are over 100 paintings in the collection of the hotel by 12 artists, living and working in KwaZulu-Natal. The paintings allow us to enter into the lives of the artists and their communities. At first glance, the paintings with their bold colours often appear playful, witty and optimistic, yet many of them simultaneously reflect on socially sensitive issues such as health, HIV/AIDS, democracy and even teen pregnancy.
Many of the painters whose work is represented in the Oyster Box Collection were encouraged by the African Art Centre which has offered Saturday art classes to aspiring painters, called the Velobala Group, since 1994.
The late Trevor Makhoba (1956-2003) also inspired many of these artists. He was well-known for his controversial, socially critical narrative painting style, the influence of which can be seen in the works of Sibusiso Duma and Welcome Danca who were his students from 1993 to 2003.
There are 20 paintings by SIBUSISO DUMA in the collection. His quiet paintings are metaphors for daily life and are distinctive and simple in conception, with one or two figures situated in a landscape and sky depicted in flat bands of colour. His poignant and haunting subjects immediately evoke feelings of compassion and often humour in the viewer.
His subjects include a ‘Mama’ playing soccer, a person pushing a woman in a wheelbarrow with the title A Man must be Responsible, a woman carrying a man on her shoulders, a ‘Mama’ carrying three infants in a basket on her head, and many other references to partners and family relations, as well as love and loss. He was born in Durban in 1978 and is self-taught aside from some guidance from Makhoba over four years.
The seven paintings by WELCOME DANCA are painted with more realism and illustrate daily activities such as work, hair-braiding and communicating. He also has a quiet humour, most prominently seen in his painting TV is Rare in the Countryside which shows a group of children gathered in a doorway in a village watching television. He was born in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, and studied graphic design at the Durban Institute of Technology and with Trevor Makhoba for four years. His hope is that by painting the traditional Zulu way of life, its customs and ceremonies, people will gain an appreciation and understanding of Zulu culture.
The eighteen paintings by JOSEPH MANANA illustrate his amazing flair for pattern and design. His themes are daily occurrences and myths in traditional Zulu life. His acute sense of colour and rhythmic compositions bring his subjects to life, with vibrantly patterned fabrics and stylised landscapes. He tenderly portrays his subjects, be they dancers, babies, chiefs or a daughter asking her mother for advice. He often plays with the scale of figures in relation to the landscape – two children are larger than a baby elephant, and a frog is the same size as a person. Manana was born in 1964 in Weenen in KwaZulu-Natal, and studied fine art at what is now the Durban Institute of Technology for three years from the age of 36.
In the ten paintings by SIPHIWE ZULU, the artist offers us poetic reflections on the essence of life. His abstracted fields of dots are in a Pointillist style of his own and combine text and image. He depicts concepts and ideas such as ‘change is pain’, ‘the crossroads of life’, ‘a U-turn’, and quirky subjects including the sideways walk of a crab! He was born in 1961 in Lamontville, KwaZulu-Natal, and after leaving school has held various jobs as a machine operator, mechanic’s assistant and petrol attendant. He is a seasoned marathon runner and won bronze medals in the Comrades Marathon in 1986, 1987 and 1988. He attended the African Art Centre’s Velobala Art Classes from 1994 to 1997 and studied fine art at the Durban Institute of Technology for one year.
DERRICK VUSUMUZI NXUMALO also has a geometric style that is distinctly his own. His paintings of buildings and tropical landscapes radiate with saturated colour. Their intensity and luminosity are such that his images pulsate with his vision of the world. He was born in 1962 in Dumisa, Umzinto, KwaZulu-Natal.
He began selling his paintings through the African Art Centre in 1985 and has worked part-time as an artist since 1988. Nxumalo has served his community over the past 12 years and is currently serving as a Ward Counsellor for the Vulamehlo Municipality.
MBEKENI MBILI’s sense of humour and hopeful outlook are evident in his six paintings of township life in the collection. In one painting, a mother and child sit on a mat outdoors and watch a television set on the back of a bakkie that has only the test-pattern showing. In another, a man in tribal dress paints out all the negative aspects of life in South Africa to bring ‘Joy and Shine in Africa’.
As Mbili remarks: “I want my paintings to create an atmosphere where the world becomes receptive to us and supports our land and its people, and realizes we have much to offer, despite all the negative reports generated about South Africa. I want to send a message of hope and joy by portraying the humility and endurance of the South African people by means of my work.”
The collection includes four paintings by SIYABONGA SIKOSANA which continue the tradition of township art. There is one work by THEMBA SIWELA, also in the township tradition but with a strong awareness of cartoons. A work by MESHAC THULANI MBOKAZI, born in 1979 in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, takes this genre into a rural landscape.
As he writes about his painting in the collection: “My artwork, in oil paint on canvas, shows a rural sub-township where beauty is appreciated in a strange manner. An elderly man appreciates a young, beautiful lady by touching her hand; he reflects that he still has humanity even though he is ageing, and kissing her hand shows that although he is old he can still love. The whole artwork reflects harmony and interaction in a community, with the stall women gossiping and laughing at the sight of the lovely lady who keeps herself beautiful.”
ZWAKELE GUMBI, born in 1973 in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, also gently observes the world that surrounds him. After leaving school, he received excellent training from Fay Halsted-Berning of Ardmore, who taught him the finer points of painting.
In his own words, his painting in the collection depicts “a happy couple watching animals at the zoo. The interaction or relationship between the two is a result of their pure, deep and abiding love for one another. In this picture there is also an element of giving and receiving between the two lovers. This is portrayed by the ceramic gift which the boyfriend is giving to his girlfriend, which symbolizes their love for one another. The animals in the background also reflect the qualities of being cared for, and interaction.”
There are works in the collection by two KwaZulu-Natal painters who received formal education in art history and retain strong references to KwaZulu-Natal in their work. MZUZILE MDUDUZI XAKAZA, currently completing his doctorate in visual history at the University of the Western Cape, looks nostalgically at the rolling hills and landscape of KwaZulu-Natal in his three paintings in the collection.
In his major, large-scale work, RONALD TENZA brings Edouard Manet’s painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère into the context of our time. Tenza graduated from the Durban Institute of Technology and explores notions of reinterpretation in his work. As he explains:
“In my work I am trying to reinterpret the European art aesthetic in an African context … My creative task is to say let us live the Postmodern moment like race-less persons. This is because there are lots of things that we should be sorting out rather than being pompous about the colour of our skins that we did not create. Ronaldism is my style, my brand. Ronald is my name and the ‘ism’ stems from the movements. Not that I am starting my own movement, but for me the ‘ism’ means ‘a state of Ronald’.”
The collection will offer the artists exposure to the many South African and international guests that visit the hotel and heighten awareness of the distinctive creativity of KwaZulu-Natal.