The art scene in South Africa has a new player on the market. Newly launched in September 2020, the new venue has already started gradually making a bold statement. The venue is raising its hand to compete and be noticed among the myriad of arts venues, in particular in the north, and has its origins in West Africa from where it borrows its ethnic and exotic name ‘Jollof’.
Though tucked away in the North West Province, in Haartbeestport to be precise, Jollof Gallery, is something of a refreshing presence, galvanizing the power of some of Africa’s revered history and art makers, and with that managing to tap into the potential tourist market that visits the idyllic environment away from the hustle and bustle of the cities.
The term Jollof is derived from the West African ‘one-pot rice dish” called Jollof rice, and part of the Wolof traditional cuisine culture practiced across many countries including The Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Togo, and Mali. Typical of the one-pot dish concept, the gallery is a single place where scores of art, handcrafted, hand-painted, and other artworks can be viewed.
The artworks are not only from mainly West Africa but there is a blend with Zulu originals, courtesy of the owner Talla Niang’s partnership with Nyathi Arts, the latter’s contributions steeped in the Zulu traditions and rich southern African cultural history.
Major African tribal histories represented are the Zulu of South Africa, Yoruba (largely found in Nigeria), Ashanti (Ghana), and Dogon (Mali).
The collection comprises of Old Zulu spoons, headrests, milk pots that can be seen side-by-side with modern Tika masks (Gabon), Yoruba sacred beaded beads (Nigeria), and Modern Ashanti beaded masks (Ghana).
Table lamps, coffee mugs, salt and pepper shakers, spoon rests, vases, pots, mirrors, bowls, snack bowls, flower pots, wall hanging decorative items, and more, designed by Jollof Gallery and manufactured by Nyathi Arts add to the range of artifacts on show. Jollof Gallery brings the West African creative element while Nyathi Arts represents the Zulu facet.
Visitors can also see sets of pots that are hand-painted; blending the Adinkra symbols called Dwennimmen that represent strength (Ghana), Ndebele patterns (South Africa), and Bogolan Patterns (Mali).
More hand-painted mirrors blend the Adinkra symbol called Gye Nyame that symbolizes the supremacy of God (Ghana), and patterns of the Ndebele (South Africa), and the Bogolan of Mali.
This trans-continental creative convergence is further evident in the spoon rests (hand painted) that blend the Adinkra symbol (Dwennimmen in Ghana) and representing strength, and patterns synonymous with, again, the Ndebele and Bogolan.
Niang, who says he travels the far corners of the globe to enrich his appreciation of artistic expressions and cultures, both traditional and modern, wants Jollof Gallery to be the dominant reservoir to entertain, educate and inform the tourist of all the complexity and shades of African art.
“We have blended the West African and southern African Zulu to create a unique space and to make the tourist experience and take home a piece of Africa.” Says Niang. He asserts that there is no reason for tourists to shun the country, stating: “For me, the most dangerous city in the world is New York, not Johannesburg but the world doesn’t know that. Jollof Gallery is making African art fashionable. With each piece of artwork, there is a unique story and meaning, there is an African clan story connected to it.”
The place is yet to get recognized on the market but looking at the array of artifacts on display Niang has done a great job to bring together some wares from around the continent where connoisseurs can indulge in a single pot.
“The idea is to blend African patterns for the world to marvel,” Niang emphasizes.
At Jollof Gallery, the tourist can marvel at a single spot of cultural outpourings and within a tranquil setting.
Niang says though still a bit risky for art buyers to put money into art at the moment because of the pandemic, things are none the less looking good for his gallery which has some of the best collectible, timeless art.
For tourists, Africa and South Africa has so much to offer than, for example, going to France or other parts of Europe because Africa has cultures that are not seen anywhere, he explains yet another reason to visit South Africa and include his gallery into their itinerary.
Estimates project that the number of tourists to South Africa will reach 19.6 million by 2023. Of this figure, a significant number will be those seeking to sample some of the country’s arts and culture products.
Talla Niang is a Senegalese migrant who came to South Africa more than two decades ago and it seems he has succeeded to improve the country’s ever-changing artistic attractions.
“African designs are not just decorations. They represent life-affirming symbols, ancient wisdom, and guidelines for human behavior. Under our label, we bring together a blend of different patterns which become a new, rich “language”. Through this language we want to express Pan-African unity in diversity – the vision of Africa’s energetic power to create new futures,” reads a joint Facebook post by Jollof Gallery and Nyathi Arts.
“On our first collection we focusing on three nations The Ndebele nation (South Africa) with their colorful geometric wall painting patterns, done by women, the Bambara nation (Mali) with their affirmative and popular Bogolan mud cloth, traditionally worn for ritual purposes as well for joyous celebrations and the Akan nation (Ghana) with the Adinkra symbols that represent evocative messages and proverbs.”
“Ceramics are deeply rooted in African tradition way back with the Nok culture in the north of Nigeria, where potteries dating back around 2000 BC were found, and the heritage is kept on good hands from the north of Africa in Morocco at Safi, one of the world capital of ceramics down to South Africa in KwaZulu Natal with the beautiful and popular Zulu pots.”