Awande is a Ndebele name for girls meaning “may love and kindness grow.” Why Ndebele? Because I have been studying one of South Africa’s most globally acclaimed visual artists, Esther Mahlangu. Esther is from the Ndebele tribe that lives in the north of South Africa. They are known for their exceptional bead-work and their colourful geometric patterns adorning their houses.
Esther Mahlangu became the first artist to transfer the traditional Ndebele designs that would typically decorate walls to canvases, catapulting her into world fame.
In this portrait I have included the Ndebele patterns into Awande’s face. Ndebele patterns were used as secret communication between the subgroups of the Ndebele people. Disguised to anyone but the Ndebele. They used the patterns to communicate war strategies, personal praise, values, emotions, and to announce marriage on their house walls.
When I was creating Awande the idea of secret messages hidden in patterns came to me. I thought about the secret messages we as women carry on our faces, our past, our future, our challenges and our triumphs. All the hidden stories behind our eyes and traced onto our skins.