Introduction to Vanishing Faces of S.A
Written by Don Heywood
Friday, 10 June 2011 18:57
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For some time now I have had the good fortune to spend several months every year in South Africa, mostly in the Cape. Being a portrait painter already, and often being commissioned to paint people in their ceremonial robes, I soon became intrigued by the diverse wealth of costumes and customs that the many ethnic group of Southern Africa had to offer. As I became more involved I also became more aware of the accelerating erosion of traditional costume amongst these peoples.

I wanted to capture these images in my work as a record of a beauty and visible identity which is in danger of vanishing under the pressure of a rapidly changing society. In capturing these images, through both drawings and paintings, I wished to draw attention to the diversity of personalities of the individuals wearing these costumes. I appreciate that the title Vanishing Faces of Southern Africa may sound misleading: the faces are not vanishing, but the individuality created by the unique attire is fast giving way to the anonymity of the universal T-shirt and baseball cap.

The implementation of this project was to become almost obsessive, involving many journeys into remote parts of the subcontinent to meet people who were willing to let me photograph and paint them in their traditional dress. I am deeply indebted to my good friends Miriam and Emmanuel Ntshongwana, who, very early on in the project, took me to New Crossroads township in Cape Town to meet a group of sangomas - traditional diviners and healers – who were holding a forty-eight-hour ceremony. The friendliness and generosity with which I was received encouraged me to continue.

I was also privileged to be invited by King Chief Minister of Kwa Zulu, to attend the Zulu Reed Ceremony.

The majority of the paintings in this series are now in the corporate collection of First National Bank of Southern Africa Limited.

About my Work

All of the works in this book are either oil paint on canvas or pencil drawings. I use double - primed linen canvas for the paintings as it has the smooth surface I prefer, and the paint “sits” on the surface. I learnt from past experience that acrylic paint would not give me the desired translucent depth of colour I wished to achieve. I therefore changed to oil paints. For the drawings I use a 3B pencil and each drawing on average uses one pencil. Most of the drawings take at least two or three full days to produce; I therefore do not call them sketches!

As a painter I am strongly influenced by the American Realism school, especially the works  of Andrew Wyeth, James Bama and a number of the Hyper-Realists. My other major area of influence is the Dutch, Italian and Spanish schools of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Whilst this book can in no sense claim to be a definitive and complete record, I hope that it does illustrate the extraordinary richness and diversity of black African culture in South Africa. It is dedicated to all those who so kindly welcomed me into their villages and thus made the paintings possible.

Don Heywood.

Last Updated on Monday, 13 June 2011 12:57