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Orms: The People’s Art

Iziko Museums of South Africa, in partnership with Orms, launched the People’s Project on Women’s Day 2018. The project seeks to promote art by women artists, as well as to make art more accessible to the public, beyond the confines of the Gallery space.

Every three months, Orms showcases inspirational South African women artists’ work from the permanent collections of Iziko South African National Gallery. These artworks are displayed on the street-facing shop front of the Orms Print Room, on the corner of Roeland Street.

The initiative includes the work of four leading women artists, and will continue with the second installment by showcasing a work by multi-disciplinary artist, Mmakgabo Mapula Helen Sebidi. Titled Mmangwane o Tshwara Thipa ka Bohaleng (The Child’s Mother Holds the Sharp Edge of the Knife.), this artwork will be on display from Friday, 7 December, 2018.


Considered by many to be one of the foremost African female artists of her generation, Mmakgabo Mmapula Helen Sebidi has remained steadfast in her commitment to acknowledging the hard truths of contemporary life in Africa, both spiritual and secular. Novelist Craig Higginson describes it as a “humanity and playfulness and final optimism in her narratives that are very much the impression one gets from the artist herself”.

Although, she continues “to make work out of her horror at the harsh realities around and behind her, her gaze toward the future is unflinching and level.”

“Mmangwana o tshwara thipa ka bogaleng” loosely translated, means that the mother would do anything including the holding of the sharp blade of the knife intended to stab her children. The proverbial knife represented the repressive system which was hell-bent to subjugate the majority. Through the selected image, the artist draws attention to the roles of women in the South African society. When explaining this work, Sebidi said, “I see a woman chained, pulling her tradition.” The faces of the people in this oil pastel on paper piece also demonstrates another theme in Sebidi’s work. Most of the faces are created with half of the face in one color and the other half of the face in another color. These disruptions in color symbolize the schism between traditional, rural life of black South Africans and fast-paced, overcrowded urban areas where many black South Africans migrated to find work.

“We are honoured to collaborate with Iziko to create greater access to art and promote the talent that exists in our country,” says Mike Ormrod, owner of Orms.

This campaign kicked off at the Annual Orms Women’s Day Workshop, and began by showcasing a photographic work by Thania Petersen, titled Location 4: District Six. Women in the development of art receive little recognition or access. In recent years there have been smatterings of evolution, yet the patriarchal rule still applies. This is doubly true for female artists of colour. Socio-economic factors may appear to have been solved with access to fellowships and scholarships being granted to many more artists of colour. Yet the brokerage of daily survival issues still remains arduous for too many. These factors, coupled with the fact that South African society does not regard the role of artists and the arts as vital to the development and transformation of a society and life.

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