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Xibelani comes alive by charcoal art

In his large-scale charcoal drawings, Phillemon Hlungwani depicts vibey and colourful scenes of rural life, as he celebrates the Tsonga culture.

Known for his works that are deeply rooted in a sense of community and traditional values, Hlungwani, 44, continues with his unique style.

Born in Thomo village in Giyani, Limpopo, Hlungwani highlights rural life in his works. Using charcoal on paper, he creates striking pieces of art which are part of his latest exhibition Ntsako Wa Xibelani at Everard Read Gallery in Rosebank.

The works on display comprise scenes of Tsonga women dancing in their famous traditional dress xibelani.

Hlungwani's recent images have introduced colour into the clothing of his protagonists to help them stand out in all their vibrancy and humanity.

The scenes he depicts are usually full of motion and life - the characters bursting with thoughts, opinions and yearnings, which are communicated further through the arcs and lines that weave the different parts of each drawing together.

"I used to herd goats and cattle and look after chickens - and this relationship with the animal world is often present in my work. Trees are also a source of shade and food for animals and people as well as providing places for community debates, ceremonies and prayer," he says.

"Sometimes, as in the work entitled Vutlarhi bya lava kulu ka hina (The Wisdom of the Old People), trees embody and stand for the human - carrying in their roots and leaves and fruit all that has passed beneath them."

Having studied at Johannesburg Art Foundation before turning to print-
making, Hlungwani also completed a teacher's training course in art at the Wits School of Art and he also facilitates art classes for community outreach programmes. He has also been commissioned by the Johannesburg Development Agencies, MTN and government offices to create works for them.

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