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Meet the Artist Adapting South African Folklore to Furniture

There’s a lot of folklore in our culture,” says the Cape Town–based artist Atang Tshikare, reflecting on the life lessons he absorbed through stories as a child growing up on the outskirts of Bloemfontein, South Africa. The tale of a rock rabbit, for instance, revealed the repercussions of laziness, while the fable of Tselane and the giant reminded him to listen to his mother. These vivid accounts filled his head, fueled his imagination, and inspired the drawings he’s made since childhood.

But it wasn’t until 2016 that he expanded his fantasies in three dimensions. After collaborating with several designers to create illustrations for their furniture and textiles, Tshikare was approached by Southern Guild, the taste-making Cape Town gallery. With their support, he debuted a trio of zoomorphic wonders: a one-eyed floor lamp with a giraffe-like silhouette; a six-legged, crab-shape seat; a bronze table lamp in the form of a beetle. All sold quickly at Design Miami that December.

pemNkwe Molelongem in wood and bronze.p

Nkwe Molelong (Leopard in the fire) in wood and bronze.

Anke Loots

pemLengKapaLengem in patinated bronze.p

Leng-Kapa-Leng (Anytime) in patinated bronze.

Hayden Phipps

“People think of a chair as a flat surface, four legs, a backrest, but I was thinking more sculpturally,” he says. “These things had been in my imagination for so long, and I wanted them to live in a physical form.” From his warehouse studio, Tshikare has continued to expand on those stories—experimenting with resin, car paint, and patinated bronze, and teaming with the interior-design firm Okha on ethereal tables of glass and metal.

With the birth of his son, Peo (“seed” in Sesotho), last January, he began ruminating once again on the stories we tell children. During the pandemic lockdowns, Tshikare and his wife, Tlalane, a doctoral candidate in socio-linguistics, learned what they could about their respective people, the Tswana and the Sotho. After speaking with shamans and sheepherders, they began translating age-old proverbs into an illustrated novel and toy-sized sculptures, the latter of which will be unveiled in May.

pArtist Atang Tshikare in his Cape Town studio.p

Artist Atang Tshikare in his Cape Town studio.

Stan Kaplan

pemLe bone Leboneem in bronze.p

Le bone Lebone (Have You Seen the Light) in bronze.

Justin Patrick

Tshikare plans to enlarge some of them as functional objects. “It’s all part of one long narrative,” he says of the new body of work. “They’re all connected, big or small.” Meanwhile, other recent creations, like an amoeba-shaped sculpture, found accidental uses. “You can sit on it in five different ways,” he explains. “But when you look at it, it looks like a seed.” atangtshikare.com 

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