Ukuthunga – original embroidery appeared on South Africa's stamps

June 15th, 2014

On the farm Pro Nobis near Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal, a group of embroidery artists have made a name for themselves by creating extraordinary artwork. They are part of Tunga Embroidery Studio, which has been developing the creative skills of rural Zulu women since 2003. To celebrate this unusual art form, the South African Post Office will issue a miniature sheet with one stamp and a commemorative cover on 30 May 2014.

"The purpose of Tunga Studio is to enhance the quality of life of each embroidery artist," says Beulah. "In ten years they have grown in confidence to express themselves in their work with pride and to experience joy in their achievements."

Through Tunga, the women are made aware of the value of their creative talents. They are taught to translate the traditional and practical skill of embroidery into vibrant, contemporary art, producing needlework of meticulous quality, explains Beulah. "Their inspiration is drawn from Africa's animals, birds, insects and plants."

Beulah, who studied sculpture under Ozzie Gerber and has a keen creative eye, provides ongoing training, while developing new styles and encouraging the creativity of each artist. "The artists are very enthusisastic about their work and keen to receive new commissions", says Beulah. She provides guidance by making suggestions about things like colour combinations on items.

"The Tunga Studio receives many national and international visitors. These visits are always very positive and the feedback to the artists build their self confidence and enhances their quality of life," she says.

Different artists were involved in creating the designs featured on the miniature sheet and commemorative envelope. They include Thandi Sithole, Goodness Basolivumeleni and Phiwan Ngubani. It is interesting to note that Goodness always included the internal organs, even the teeth of the animals in her designs. Some animals were shown pregnant with a clearly visible embryo.

The panel on the commemorative envelope depicts a black rhino (Bhejane in isiZulu) pregnant with new life. She is browsing in an enchanted forest where all the elements are brought together - the sun, a rainbow, stars and flowering indigenous bush. Behind her is the symbol for an amonite, part of our ancient history.

The design on the canceller is one of the five original designs done by Goodness Basolivumeleni in 2003.

The isiZulu words used in the designs are ilanga, which means the sun, indlovu meaning elephant, ihlahla meaning a tree and lihle ihlahla a beautiful tree.