By Nivasha Pather, Category Marketing Manager, Nestlé East, and Southern Africa
Culture is an inherent part of our identity as South Africans and in art, we have found many a means to reflect that which makes us proud of our heritage. Particularly for our diverse country, art’s ability to reflect our heritage also breaks boundaries, whether it be racial, cultural, religious, or social. And the art here is, all manner of cultural expression, that includes, visual arts, fashion, food, music and so on. It is a vehicle for building stronger connections and communities, which have become more precious in the last few years. Therefore, this month we should truly meditate on our heritage, and unite, while we indulge in good food, and dazzle in our traditional regalia. Somewhere in that celebration, let’s spare a thought for the pivotal role that art plays in connecting us through reflecting our very core.
Culinary arts are a rich territory for South African expression, and beyond their contribution to heritage, food and nutrition is also a critical touchpoint for community. On one end, through the art of food, we celebrate ourselves and each other, and on the other end, it is a critical area where we can get to solve issues. For instance, hidden hunger remains a problem in our communities, and through many traditional foods, we can address these micronutrient deficiencies that plague us. It is heartening to observe how we are imbuing this local knowledge in our day to day lives, with traditional influences showing up in restaurants, capturing our pride and heritage. Whether it be fusion use of spices and herbs or evolving traditional dishes to capture a generation’s taste profile, food as an art form truly reflects and connects us.
In fashion, we thrive through both self and communal expression, and inherent in that reflection, is our heritage. Heritage month is renowned nationwide as a call for us all to show up in our ‘traditional Sunday best,’ from the most vibrant xibelanis to colourful shweshwes to intricately beaded umbhaco to glittery saris. Beyond that, our most incredible and unique motifs are showing up in runways here and across the globe. Our heritage lives in those designs. It also lives in South African talent gone global, reflecting our identities, connecting us to each other through pride, and our country to the world through excellence.
Our heritage probably shines through best in visual art. We are the first ever African country to have an artist commissioned for the BMW Art Car series, Dr. Esther Mahlangu. Her abstract Ndebele patterns nestle proudly next to Jackson Pollock’s drips and splashes and Andy Warhol’s pop art, reminding us all that our heritage shaped contemporary art globally. This expression of our heritage comes from a homegrown drive to remind ourselves of who we are, and where we have come from. In that same vein, much loved South African brand, Nescafé Ricoffy, has always tapped into this visual art hotpot to encourage youth to showcase their heritage through an annual art competition. The competition calls on young people to redesign the Nescafé Ricoffy can with the aim of celebrating our rich heritage, while encouraging us all to repurpose and reuse the can. The latter being urgent and necessary given the urgent need to minimise waste as we act against climate change.
This year, incredible entries came from every corner of Mzansi, and one talented individual walked away with the first prize. The young man, Arthur Mahlangu, fully captured a design that elevates and celebrates his Ndebele heritage. He drew from his cultural aesthetic, language, and combined influences from nature to create a visual expression that seeks to bind us together, incorporating our many unique cultures. His art does not only emulate the Ndebele culture, but it also encapsulates our sense of community as South Africans and showcases the pride of our people.
As we celebrate Heritage Day and the rest of Heritage Month, we truly ought to spare a thought for the role that art plays in reflecting and connecting us. Whether it be through the food we eat, or the clothes we wear, or the visual art we engage, the broad world of artistic expression is a linchpin in how we reflect and celebrate our diverse cultures as South Africa. And that, is how we are reminded of our connectedness, and the value of community.