Established in the early 1960s by Swedish teachers Peder and Ulla Gowenius, the Evangelical Lutheran Art and Craft Centre (ELC) in KwaZulu Natal was one of AfricaÂ’s most significant postwar art hubs.

To British audiences, the area is better known as Rorke’s Drift: the site of one of the pivotal battles in the Anglo-Zulu war, depicted by countless 19th-century military painters and in the 1964 film Zulu. The art created there, most often taking the form of prints, became one of the cornerstones of modern art in South Africa. Peder and Ulla were graduates of the Konstfackskolan, a modernist institute in the manner of the Bauhaus. They had come to Rorke’s Drift to help rehabilitate patients suffering from tuberculosis, and the crafts they taught there – first weaving, later printmaking – were intended to be therapeutic and economically empowering. The ELC quickly expanded beyond its original purpose, and by 1967 around 60 people were employed as teachers, with a further 50 involved in managing satellite workshops across Zululand. The formal training provided by the ELC made it immensely attractive to black artists, as during the apartheid period it was one of the only places where they could train and produce work. From the beginning the works created by artists such as Azaria Mbatha and Muziweyixhwala Tabethe were highly impressive, and quickly Rorke’s Drift art gained a foothold in exhibitions across South Africa and beyond. Mbatha and Tabethe’s linocuts embraced Biblical subjects, indigenous beliefs and historical scenes to create a visual language for Zulu identity. John Muafangejo, widely considered to be one of the most important African artists of the 20th century, completed a fine art certificate at the ELC in the late 1960s and returned in 1974 – his powerful etched portraits and linocuts evoke black experience and work, as well as foundational historic events including the Battle of Rorke’s Drift itself. All three artists have been internationally celebrated, but neither they nor Rorke’s Drift art in general are represented by more than a handful of works in UK collections. The 92 prints acquired by the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology help fill a significant gap in the UK’s holdings of African modernist art.


The Dr Philippa Hobbs Collection.

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