The Art of the Zambezi with Ardmore

| Tamlin Wightman

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Art breathes new life into everyday things, it forces us to slow down and pay more attention, it makes us see the world, things big and small, in a different way. It brings us together, to discuss, to ogle, to feel, and it sends us away, more alive than before, the cogs of our minds turning faster, our hearts beating more fervently.

This was our experience at the Ardmore studio‘s recent ‘Great Zambezi’ Exhibition, held at The Cellars-Hohenort in Cape Town, on 17 to 19 February. Presented by founder Fée Halsted and her team, Christopher Ntshalintshali, Sthabiso Hadebe and Qiniso Mungwe, the exhibition’s Zambezi focus has reminded us of the richness of life within and beside our great river.

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It seems that the rest of the world has been equally impassioned by Fée’s portrayal of this part of Africa, as French brand Hermès joined forces with the studio, based in the Caversham Valley in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, to launch a range of patterned scarves last year – inspired by the flocks of brightly coloured birds and abundant wildlife found around the Zambezi River.

The “La March du Zambèze” scarf features a central elephant surrounded by other creatures and indigenous flora motifs, while “Savanna Dance” shows a vervet monkey being chased by a leopard, giant king protea flowers and symbols of Zulu culture. Hermès also took the orange and pink version of “La March du Zambèze”, which features decorative elephant and crocodiles, and created a handbag.

Below is a look at a few of the works exhibited, along with snippets of inspiration from Zimbabwean-born ceramic artist, Fée Halsted, who founded the Ardmore studio in 1985.

Take a look at some of the pieces from Ardmore’s Zambezi collection here.

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On her love for the Zambezi

“I’m passionate about my home of Zimbabwe and for me the Zambezi conjures up ideas of romance, discovery, those images from the novels of Rudyard Kipling. I was also greatly inspired by the Baines’ paintings of the Victoria Falls.”

[Thomas Baines was the first artist to view and portray the grandeur of the Victoria Falls. His paintings were published in 1865 as a book which included 11 chromolithographs and 8 pages of descriptive text by the artist. Together with James Chapman, over 16 months, Baines travelled from Cape Town to the Zambezi, where they arrived on 23 July 1862. He spent 12 days sketching the river and completed most of his canvases by the roadside on his return. His paintings gave the outside world their first pictorial impression of Darkest Africa’s great scenic secret. Read more.]

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On some people being offended by the conflict and sexuality in some works

“We live with nature in Africa, with death, hippos and lions waiting for them to get weak, it’s part of life here. This is Africa. Although conflict and sexuality offends some people, it’s what we love about Africa. Its realness. It makes us smile. So we show the snakes. There’s a lot of jolly along the way.”

On some of her favourite Zambezi icons

“We love the long-tailed Narina trogon (Apaloderma narina), the monkeys, the waterbuck, the tiger fish – all of which are featured on our ceramics and patterns. My brothers are all great tiger fishermen. I love the rhythms of fishing. And of course we have to show the teeth. We love the mekoro of the Zambezi, which we turned into lovely wallpaper and statues, for instance with a hippo knocking the boat. It’s real Africa. We’ve featured two kissing elephants on a magnificent big urn in my museum. There’s such love between them. Talk about whimsy! And one pattern we’re working on is just the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in the wild – two leopards, having just mated, lying with their tails entwined.”

On her team

“I work with such highly intelligent sculptors, ones with great vision. You need tiny fingers to paint the sculptures, fingers capable of great intensity. It’s lovely working with a young team.”

On the Ardmore style

“We are not square or strict. We wave. We are in tune with nature, flowing and organic.”

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