The day began very badly.We aimed to get a taxi to the City Hall which has both an African art gallery and museum.But when we arrived the city hall staff were on strike because of the cost of living crisis and it was closed.
The taxi driver recommended another art gallery in suburbs and we left just as a number of police squad cars arrived as there were reports of fighting in the building. We got to the second gallery only to find it was closed on Mondays.
About to despair the driver recommended a third gallery which specialised in Zulu art and artefacts.This was open though I later found you were supposed to book in advance.He had taken us to a gem of a place and we got a personal tour and Margaret got help to go round the place – an old Victorian building – in a wheelchair with strong Zulu men lifting it over stairs.
What we had discovered was a place called the African Art Centre or Phansi Gallery a non profit making company which encourages and preserves Zulu artefacts and supports black artists.The gallery houses a huge private collection by Paul Mikula who has amassed over year.
Now I know nothing about Zulu culture beyond the populist view of them as warriors. What we were shown have us an insight into their lives and traditions and the everyday utensils they use. One of the most striking exhibits were the fertility dolls given to a young women on reaching puberty. They are given the doll at a special celebration and keep it to give to a man they agree to marry.
There were also ordinary utensils from spoons – there are male and female ones – and they keep them for life as they have communal eating,bowls for beer and special pots for making yoghurt.
There were also wedding dresses which are put together by relatives and friends each adding a strip of fabric with the symbols of the clans of each partner.
Without the series of unfortunate incidents earlier we would never have found out about this museum which also plays a big role in the community and helps local artists