African Painted Houses: Basotho Dwellings of Southern Africa

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9780810919907: African Painted Houses: Basotho Dwellings of Southern Africa

This New York Times award-winning book explores the mural paintings that Basotho women apply to their homes. It includes more than 100 color photographs by the author, which constituted an acclaimed exhibition presented in New York, Paris, and other venues. The text explains the cultural and historical context of Basotho murals, including chapters on male an female initiation that show how body arts are linked to house decoration. Basotho architecture and murals are imbued with fertility symbolism that links women, the earth, and plant forms. The mandala-like geometric patterns are prayers in paint, addressed to the ancestors and appealing for rain. When the renewing rain comes, it washes away the murals designs, which are replaced or rejuvenated the following year. The art form is part of the cycle of life. The patterns captured in the photographs have inspired mural designs throughout America, in public projects ranging from Times Square to Arizona. The book is based on the author's dissertation and draws on several years' fieldwork in the Free State of South Africa and in Lesotho, for which he received a Rockefeller Award.

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Review:

Prayer and protest come in many guises. The Basotho women of South Africa and Lesotho pray to their ancestors for rain, abundance, and peace by painting and slicing brilliant geometric murals on the mud plaster walls of their houses. "If the prayers are successful," says photographer and author Gary N. van Wyk, "the rains arrive and wash away the paintings." Growing up white under apartheid, van Wyk noticed these vivid houses while traveling with his family through the Highveld below Johannesburg where many Basotho lived and worked on white-owned farms. In the years when links to the outlawed African National Congress party were often severely punished, some Basotho women defiantly splashed their homes with the black, green, and gold colors of the ANC. Van Wyk joined in such protests as an art student by helping paint street murals of state-sanctioned violence. A passion for recording political graffiti led him back to the dwellings decorated in ANC colors, several of which he photographed for this dazzling testament to Basotho lives, ceremonies, history, and art. --Francesca Coltrera

About the Author:

Gary van Wyk was born in Zimbabwe and completed graduate degrees in law, fine arts, and art history in South Africa. A leading figure in the anti-apartheid Resistance Art Movement, he was exiled in 1986. He completed his Ph.D. in Art History at Columbia University, NY, as a Fulbright Scholar, and received a Rockefeller Award for his research in Africa. He has published and edited more than fifty articles and books related to African art and culture, most recently Shangaa: Art of Tanzania, which the New York Times described as "stupendous." His African Painted Houses (Abrams) was a New York Times Book Review top architectural book for 1998, and Apartheid: Calibrations of Color (Rosen) received a Notable Book Award from the African Studies Association. He edited the 56-volume series Heritage Library of African Peoples (Rosen) for young adult readers, and was commissioning editor of the 12-volume African Civilizations series (Franklin-Watts, 1998-99). He has curated several critically acclaimed exhibitions in South Africa and the United States, and "made New York history by integrating African art, old and new--into the fabric of the contemporary Chelsea gallery scene" (NY Times, May 22, 2006). His most recent book is József Jakovits: Surrealist, Primitivist, Kabalist (2014).

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Van Wyk, Gary N.
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