Meeting at the quiver tree in Kew's South Africa Landscape at the British Museum is so much more interesting than meeting at the Information Desk. Find out what happened when curator Chris Spring met South African artist Sabela Mahlangu.
I have just met the South African artist Sabela Mahlangu "under the quiver tree" where I learned that he knew artist John Muafangejo well, when they were both studying art at Rorke's Drift (a name sadly so much more famous for killing than creation).
John Muafangejo (1943-1987) was among the first 'modern' artists from Africa to gain an international reputation in the late 20th century. The British Museum has a number of his works in the collections, including 'A Kuanjama Wedding' currently on display in the Sainsbury African galleries. Muafangejo included a portrait of Mahlangu in his 1974 work Orange Farm.
Quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma) in their native habitat in South Africa.
As Sabela and I walked through the South Africa Landscape he began to feel at home, especially when he saw the 'star plant' label showing the thatched Ndebele house with its elaborate decoration and the ladies sitting outside wrapped in colourful blankets. "One of them could be my wife", he said smiling wistfully.
I told him how, at the community event a couple of weeks earlier, I had spoken to a woman who had left South Africa during the struggle, and had not returned to her native land. I spoke to her in the evening of that beautiful sunny day. Although she had been at the Museum since it had opened at 10am that morning, she had returned again and again to the landscape during the day, always remembering - and at the same time seeing or learning something new. By the time she spoke to me in the landscape that evening, she felt that she had "come home".
I left Sabela in the landscape with a promise that I would see him there again very soon.
- Chris Spring -
Curator, British Museum
About Steve, Tony and Richard
Steve Ruddy is Manager of the Garden Development Unit, and is responsible for concept design, planning and delivery of a diverse range of projects, services and activities at Kew.
Tony Hall is responsible for Kew’s Arboretum, managing the globally important plant collections and heritage landscape. Expert in all aspects of plant growth and care, Tony manages the Arboretum Nursery ensuring the collections are safe guarded for the future. You can find out more about his work by following the Arboretum team blog.
Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include both nursery collections and collections on public display such as the Alpine plants, Grass Garden, Woodland and Rock Garden, and Order Beds at Kew. Richard also frequently contributes to the Alpine and Rock Garden team blog.
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