eKhaya eKasi Art and Education Center

“We hope that beyond owning a piece of art work, people will remember the story of the people who created it.”

Lulama Sihlabeni is the project leader for the eKhaya eKasi Art and Education Centre in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. The talented hands of over 50 artists skillfully bend wire, drawn from discarded telephone wire, to create the animal forms in their native environment at the center. These forms take on an artistic life as selected beads are strung over each wire. The result is more than beauty, it is sustaining a tradition. It also is the lifeline that finances educations and costs of living for the artists and their extended families. Additionally, the money sustains a crucial AIDS education outreach program focused on, dispelling dangerous myths and with the hope of ending the stigmatization faced by people affected by the disease.

Lulama explains, “As folk artisans we recognize our responsibility to address contemporary issues, even when controversial. Folk art must continuously evolve. We carefully observe our community and deliberate as a group. Folk art must speak to people -- that puts the "folk" in folk arts. The AIDS epidemic inspired the skeleton figures we designed, showing that death can result from unsafe practices. We must dispel myths surrounding HIV/AIDS and speak out against the stigmatization that pressures people into deadly silence. The spirit of Ubuntu means that we must support one another and gain strength through our interconnection. For there will be no folk art if there are no people left to make it.”

The eKhaya eKasi Art and Education Centre focuses on employing women and mothers as a way to empower their community for positive social change. She says, “We believe that the economic status of mothers drives communities above all else. In this sense, the community benefits because women are able to feed and clothe their children and send them to school. In addition, many women are caring for elders, so that is another benefit.”

Lulama enjoys working with people who would otherwise be unemployed because it demonstrates how creating something with your hands, and using ideas that came from their own minds, inspires hope and a positive attitude in the members of the cooperative. She describes, “Economic opportunities can be scarce, so watching people create opportunities for themselves is exciting. In addition, seeing how creative thinking involving the arts can also inspire people to think creatively in other aspects of their lives is a powerful thing.”

When asked what she loves most about her job Lulama stated, “Watching materials be transformed from a spool of wire and bag of beads into a sculpted animal is a magical thing. It is like giving life and respect to these animals.”


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