In celebration of International Women’s Day, meet the female rising stars who are causing a stir on the local creative scene, one project at a time.
‘My love of food goes back as far as I can remember, but my love of cooking came much later,’ says self-taught cook Mpho Masango of Plump Kitchen. ‘When I was in university, I got a job at a fancy restaurant (well, fancy for Grahamstown!) and grew close to its amazing yet temperamental chef. By observing him, applying his techniques, exploring in the kitchen and making full use of my senses, I learnt how to cook.’
Years later, after running The Bioscope’s Chalkboard Café in Joburg, quitting her nine-to-five in production, and pandering to people asking for her food skills professionally, Mpho wanted to channel her love of good food and feeding people, and started her enterprise Plump Kitchen. The pop-up culinary experience takes place in eclectic homes around Joburg and offers theme-tailored, story-rich and thoughtfully curated gatherings that feel like comfortable feasts for one big happy family.
‘The organic way that cooking grew in my life is reflected in the kind of food I make – it’s full of heart and nowhere near careful.’
I’d love to work with the Gather Journal team and South African food stylist and recipe developer Khanya Mzongwana.
the product designer
Starting out in the fashion world in the early 2000s, designer and entrepreneur Manini Rampola was soon faced with the unwelcoming reality of the industry, resulting in her leaving it altogether. She turned to interiors as a form of escape and this, combined with her interest in marketing, led her to a new life path in the form of product design. ‘I’ve always been creative and wanted a way to express that,’ Manini says. ‘Designing contemporary furniture made sense, and I use my marketing knowledge to sell and create brand awareness.’
‘I want my daughter to know and understand what it means to work hard towards your dreams.’
Manini has two babies in her life that are closest to her heart: her first, Detail’24, is her seven-year-old retro-meets-Scandi design studio that has recently expanded into an online shop to broaden her brand’s reach; her second is her daughter Kananelo, to whom she gave birth last year and who has given Manini a different perspective and extra drive… not that she needs it. See her new range at this year’s 100% Design South Africa in Joburg.
I’d love to work with local interior designer Noks Dlamini-Nxumalo of Hush Interiors.
the textile designer
One day last year, fashion designer Alexis Barrell and her childhood friend Fiona Mackay, a brand marketer, were discussing the meaning of the word ‘home’ and how – despite almost a lifetime of moving around the world and being based between Cape Town, New York and India – South Africa would always be it. ‘I adore the ease and simplicity that comes from living in the Karoo,’ says Alexis, and it was this effortlessness that inspired her lifestyle brand Karu. ‘I try to incorporate that sense of slowness and consideration into my world, and I wanted to bring that into other busy people’s lives through the products we make,’ she says.
‘I’d be happy anywhere as long as I have a wild garden, a big old hat and a studio filled with light.’
With fabrics versatile enough for both home accessories and clothing, Karu was launched locally earlier this year, and Alexis is currently working on expanding into the US and UK, as well as on a project in India to create residencies, exhibition spaces and a social programme.
I’d love to work with Malian artist and textile designer Aboubakar Fofana.
amina kaskar, sarah de villiers and sumayya vally
All roads led to Joburg for Amina Kaskar, Sarah de Villers and Sumayya Vally, who hail from Durban, Joburg and Pretoria respectively. Their architecture firm Counterspace specialises in urban and spatial problem-solving in architecture, installation and art, and was started as a fierce reaction to traditional practices. Their proudest professional moment was at the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2015, where they were only one of three South African firms, as well as being the youngest of all the participating architects.
One of Sumayya’s earliest childhood memories is walking to the Johannesburg Public Library from her grandfather’s stores on Ntemi Piliso Street in Newtown every day. ‘My love for architecture comprises two things: fiction and the city,’ she says. While Amina traces the beginning of her interest in architecture back to her grandparents’ U-shaped brick house in Durban, where she’d pretend the driveway was a moat filled with child-hungry crocodiles, when Sarah was a little girl, she used to think that architects only designed buildings, but says that ‘Now I have come to learn that they craft the way people meet each other, laugh and celebrate.’
‘We’re trying to build a practice that’s well stitched with artistic disciplines.’
As well as lecturing, you’ll find the trio working on designs for an arts centre in KwaZulu-Natal’s Valley of a Thousand Hills, furniture-meets-installation pieces for an early childhood development non-government organisation, and researching the public spaces of Wits Braamfontein and Parktown campuses and surrounds.
We’d love to work with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, British sculptor Anish Kapoor, Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, local designer Chu Suwannapha and Cape Town architectural studio Wolff Architects.
‘It started as a social experiment because everyone in my third-year art class thought I was doing some sort of prolonged performance while I was going through my training,’ says performance artist Buhlebezwe Siwani of how her career started. The youngest and only black student to complete her Master of Fine Art at Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town in 2015, Buhlebezwe soon discovered that the local art world had high expectations for the artist and sangoma – and she delivered.
Today, her performance pieces and installations featuring photo stills and videos are far more considered and multilayered than during her time as a student. She is interested in physical and spiritual journeys, and navigating what is showcased and sacred. Her photographic performance series on water, UThengisa unokrwece elunxwemene (2015), is the most memorable body of work to her, both personally and professionally. ‘It is intrinsic in the way that I think about life and my spiritual beliefs,’ she says. ‘It speaks to the many conversations we need to have about water, spirituality and human life.’
‘I am not other. Do not exoticise me because I am black.’
It seems Buhlebezwe isn’t the only one to whom her work speaks. As well as making waves in South Africa, the artist has captured the attention of those in the know abroad, resulting in her being offered a residency in the Netherlands, an exhibition at Galeria Madragoa in Portugal and back-to-back commissions at home and internationally.
I’d love to work with Iranian performance artist Sorour Darabi.
the art advisor
‘Art in South Africa is growing, especially among communities and individuals who are conventionally assumed to have no historical association with it,’ says Kholisa Thomas, a marketing manager-turned-art advisor who is passionate about bridging the gap between artists and art lovers. ‘The art establishment can be a strange and intimidating place, so I started The Art Talks to connect people with art in an accessible, fun and educational way.’
‘I hope to nurture a new audience of art lovers and grow the local art collector base.’
Her budding platform brings together audiences, artists and their work once a month in intimate spaces in and around downtown Joburg – from city rooftops to artists’ studios and other culturally relevant places – where stories and conversations flow between writers, mentors, curators and fellow artists.
In between exploring Johannesburg and attending book readings, concerts in the park and art fairs, Kholisa is deeply involved in fundraising for Kgololo Academy, a university preparatory school based in Alexandra township in Gauteng, and the Ubuntu Education Fund, a non-profit organisation that gives health and educational support to children in Port Elizabeth.
I’d love to work with the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
ALSO READ: Kholisa talks about the local art scene
the interior designer
With her keen eye, impeccable taste and a creative streak that keeps things interesting, journalism graduate Kelly Adami has always had a passion for beautiful interiors. So it was no surprise when she trained as an interior designer after university and then began her career as a decor journalist, writing about spaces she dreamt of designing one day.
After some time spent in retail, Kelly decided to take a leap of faith and started her own interior design business, Copperleaf. What used to run on the support of odd design jobs from friends is now a grown-up consultancy, with projects including kitting out a designer bathroom showroom and private game lodge, as well as launching an exclusive range of furniture and accessories, such as gold- and copper-plated mirrors. ‘The collection will include specific items that I feel I need for my projects but don’t seem to be available in stores,’ says Kelly, who has always had a strong desire to go her own way.
‘The magic is always amplified when there is collaboration.’
I’d love to work with local interior design studios Lemon, Anatomy Design and Studio19.
the floral designer
‘For generations, the women in my family have shared three things,’ says floral designer Jonette Engelbrecht. ‘Strong and independent personalities, the recipe to a cake that can keep the peace, and the belief that your home is always decorated when there are flowers on display – even more so when they are from your garden.’
‘I always let the flowers do the talking. Don’t force it.’
After constantly being asked where she’d found the floral arrangements she’d made, Jonette decided to quit her job as a scholar coordinator at a non-profit organisation and tap into the demand. She launched Botanicus, an online fine florist that delivers bespoke bundles, and this year it has already grown to include floral subscriptions and unexpected creative collaborations for installations, activations and wedding and product styling. Described as an ‘imaginative floral mix of modernity and romance with a good helping of luxurious design’, the brand will be branching into workshops and scented candles in glassware and handmade holders soon.
I’d love to work with Japanese flower artist Makoto Azuma and South African miniaturist painter Lorraine Loots.
Born in Pretoria, raised in Joburg and now based in Cape Town, self-taught jeweller Gisele Human grew up ‘making things’, an influence she attributes to her mother, who is also a jeweller. So it was only natural when, in 2012, she quit her job as an advertising copywriter to pursue a career in sculptural jewellery with her brand Waif. ‘I make all of my creative decisions myself, and my work and brand are inextricably linked to my advertising background because the photography of the jewellery is something that I consider from design stage,’ she says.
‘For a long time, jewellery was either cheap and nasty or encrusted in diamonds and a total eyesore.’
Gisele first got excited about the local design scene when she began collaborating with creatives in Cape Town, and showcased her work – which some describe as wearable art – last year alongside notable local fashion labels Rich Mnisi and AKJP at South African Menswear Week, and Selfi at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg. ‘Creating editorial jewellery is always the aim for me,’ she says. ‘I want to produce something bold that inspires people to present themselves as anything but ordinary. It’s all about the creation of the pieces and seeing them on other people.’
See her collection of bespoke jewellery created for The GUILD Group at the GUILD concept store in Cape Town’s Silo district.
I’d love to work with South African art foundry Bronze Age to make enormous Waif sculptures.
the fine artist
Fine artist Laylaa Jacobs is often torn between who she feels she needs to be and who she wants to be as a young modern Muslim woman navigating Westernised spaces. From drawing family portraits at four years old to creating colouring books at five and an illustrative book at seven, the artistic muscle of this Michaelis School of Fine Art graduate was always being flexed.
‘Fulla is about my inner chaos as a Muslim woman facing challenges most people take for granted.’
Her latest series of artworks, Fulla, showcases six embellished prayer mats and draws inspiration from the Barbie doll of the same name that is marketed to Islamic and Middle Eastern countries with a hijab and prayer mat of her own. ‘She’s a girl’s “dream doll” displaying the ideal dress code and behaviour of a Muslim woman,’ says Laylaa, who uses her work to merge the complexities of what both Fulla and Barbie represent. ‘As much as I attempt to combine the two, I will always be observed as Fulla. Muslim school encouraged me to be modest in behaviour and dress, but when I returned home, I would play with my Barbie,’ she says.
I’d love to work with Iranian artist Shirin Neshat.