She who makes a Difference : Elbé Coetsee – Owner of Mogalakwena Gallery, Cape Town

Dr Elbé Coetsee’s concern for the poverty stricken Northern Sotho people living adjacent to the Coetsee’s cattle farm in the northern part of Limpopo Province between Tolwe and Alldays, lead to the creation of a charming safari lodge (River Lodge), a Craft Art Centre, Research Centre and Artist’s Retreat, where many a local and international artist have resided to work in conjunction with the beaders and embroiderers in the Craft Village.

During 2003 a cultural research project was initiated to document the mainly oral culture of local Papedi, Hananwa, Batolokwa and Babirwa (Northern Sotho) people living in the Blouberg area. Recently a Factory was established manufacturing health products from the ubiquitous bulbinella plant (Bulbine Frutescence) in the area.

All these activities are documented not only in words but in embroidered wall hangings, functional home enhancing products (‘soft furnishings’) like cushions as well as weaving and beaded interpretations of renowned South African artists, like Willem Boshoff and Karel Nel. Some of these pieces were gathered in unique embroidered ‘pages’ stitched together in book form. These books, made of cloth, document through oral traditions and imaginative images – the customs, religion, education, medicine, daily lives – of people in the area.

The main aim of these projects is towards nation building and creating an archive for future generations to look back and remember.

The work of the women under Dr Coetsee’s guidance and training has found eager markets locally and abroad.

Dr Coetsee holds a PhD in social entrpreneurship and in 2002 she published the definitive book on South African handwork, Craft Art in South Africa. A recent follow up, Craft Art in South Africa: Creative Intersections, was published in March 2015.

Some of the embroidered panels are showcased at international exhibitions, for example at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market in New Mexico. Some are included in permanent collections such as the South African Embassy in Brussels, Sasol Art Collection and Jack Ginsberg’s Artist Book Collection in Johannesburg.

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