When sticking to the beaten track winding through the Limpopo patchwork like a thin strand of golden thread, one is guaranteed to miss the myriad unearthed jewels scattered across the province.
Venturing further from the N1 North highway provides an opportunity for discovering relatively unknown gems such as Dancing Fish Gallery, which is comfortably nestled at the foot of the Soutpansberg Mountains.
Leaving behind the town of Louis Trichardt the tar road to Vivo meanders past the turn-off to Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge, a shrine to the exceptional crafts of artists from Tsonga and Venda origin located in close proximity as well as the early Settlers, the Lobedu, the BaPhalaborwa and the Hananwa further away.
Wooden sculptures, clay pots, colourful figures, strings of beads and embroidered textiles are exterior influences incorporated in the interiors and also outside spaces of the establishment. Here art becomes bespoke functional pieces, like a crocodile day bed positioned at the edge of the inviting pool.
The gallery on the premises is a living testimony to the history of the respective ethnic groups, but also evident of a private collection reflective of a passion for the arts and craftsmanship from the area shared by owners Marcelle Bosch and Aart van Soest.
Upon crossing the threshold, panels positioned throughout the gallery give visitors insight into the traditions and customs of the various tribes. Singular conversation pieces in varying media that include miniature Nguni cattle from clay, white fertility dolls of cloth and beads as well as shells, colourful wire pots, beaded aprons, matching figurines, striking sculptures and head rests of wood on display behind glass or on pedestals within the confines of the airy space are examples of the latent talent of the people of Limpopo and the powerful messages they are the custodians of. In the shop on the premises the high-end handiwork of local and Zimbabwe artists call for investigation. Batik, beads and baobab-infused body products all vie for display space evident of rural hip.
Currently an outdoor exhibition of work of 25 to 30 Venda and Tsonga artists either featured on the premises or during cultural tours and workshops arranged for guests, takes up space with larger than life pieces mostly in wood and clay grabbing the attention.
Van Soest explains that an initial three-year stay in South Africa made them resolve to return to purchase a working farm outside Louis Trichardt eleven years ago. A year later they stopped farming activities and focussed on cultural tourism, mostly directed towards the East of the province, he adds. Their main target, he mentions, is to help the local crafters who suffer due to marketing of their art. The operations are very much based on their idea of Africa, and not the picture of the continent one gets when visiting Johannesburg or Cape Town, he remarks. They instead found the true Africa in other parts of the continent, like Ghana and Burkina Faso. Their current location is closest to what they perceive to be the most African part of the country in the European sense of the word, Van Soest adds.
The space seemingly contains invigorating qualities as the visitor leaves under grave duress while having to rush off to the next commitment in a Toyota Hilux Legend 45, courtesy McCarthy Pre-Owned Polokwane. The machine hungrily gulps up stretches of highway and soon delivers the party onto the doorstep of a mountain inn that ensures breathtaking views of a lush setting. An ensuing journey of exploration takes the outsiders up the mountain slope via Bluegumsport Road, enough for a brief demonstration of engine power in the quest to get to the spine of the Soutpansberg. Despite close proximity to the nearest commercial hub, time comes to a standstill in appreciation of alternating scenes dominated by ever present blue gums that extend high into the late afternoon sky. Here aloes dance in formation, cattle graze undisturbed and the odd mamba that is spotted on the side of the road catches the sun. A dead end is a sign for the return journey to commence via the Witvlag off-ramp, the humming engine and accompanying photographs the only evidence of a brief road trip to a place that demands more vigorous future exploration.
Story: YOLANDE NEL