Samuele Makoanyane’s sculptures in a new virtual exhibition

KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen is an innovative 3D virtual exhibition that brings to life a collection of ceramic sculptures created by Samuele Makoanyane (1909-1944). Makoanyane was active between 1930 and 1944. He lived and worked in the Koalabata village in the Teyateyaneng district of Lesotho.

For the production of KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen, an intricate photogrammetry process was used to carefully document Makoanyane’s ceramic sculptures. The process entailed measuring, mapping and digitally adjusting the tiny sculptures into 3D models to create an exciting online presentation now available on the website of the Iziko Museums of South Africa.

For the first time, this unique rendition of Mokoanyane’s work offers viewers and scholars an interactive opportunity to virtually explore the delicate figurines in great detail and from all angles, including the bases and inscriptions on the works.

drum
Ceramic sculpture by Samuel Makoanyane (1909-1944) of a woman playing a moropa drum. Kirby Collection, University of Cape Town. Photographic rendition by Stephen Wessels (DIJONDESIGN photogrammetry specialist). From the virtual exhibition KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen developed for the Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Lesotho National Museum and Art Gallery.

Makoanyane is one of Lesotho’s prominent early 20th century artists. The idea to focus on his work emanated from discussions around the new Lesotho National Museum project when staff from the Lesotho Ministry of Culture met with staff of the Iziko Museums in Cape Town in 2019. The visit was facilitated by Jon Weinberg of DIJONDESIGN, consultants and mandated representatives of the Lesotho National Museum (LNM), which is a project of the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture of the Government of Lesotho. The Iziko Museums is supportive of opportunities to engage in bilateral exchanges and cross-border collaborations with countries such as Lesotho and to contribute in this way as a fellow member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

A physical exhibition of Makoanyane’s works along with a conservation training programme for incumbent staff of the LNM was initially planned for 2020. Unfortunately, this objective could not be realized due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closing of museums during 2020. This challenge was turned into an exciting opportunity when the Iziko Museums partnered with DIJONDESIGN in the development of a virtual offering instead of displaying the figurines behind glass in a conventional museum setting. Steven Sack was the project’s guest curator and Stephen Wessels was responsible for the outstanding photogrammetry work.

group life
Ceramic sculptures by Samuel Makoanyane (1909-1944). Collection of the Iziko Museums of South Africa. Photographic rendition by Stephen Wessels (DIJONDESIGN photogrammetry specialist). From the virtual exhibition KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen developed for the Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Lesotho National Museum and Art Gallery.

KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen not only features Makoayane figurines from the Iziko collections, but also seven sculptures of musicians, each playing a different traditional instrument, from the Kirby Collection at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Furthermore, the exhibition is enhanced by a film sponsored by UCT’s College of Music entitled Music in the Mountain Kingdom. This film which was shot at the Morija Museum and Archives in early 2020 features contemporary musicians playing five of the seven instruments that Makoanyane sculpted.

musicians
Ceramic sculptures by Samuel Makoanyane (1909-1944) of musicians playing different instruments. Kirby Collection, University of Cape Town. Photographic rendition by Stephen Wessels (DIJONDESIGN photogrammetry specialist). From the virtual exhibition KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen developed for the Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Lesotho National Museum and Art Gallery.

 

Makoanyane was an extraordinary, self-taught ceramic artist who created realistic sculptures. He crossed the traditionally gendered labour divide by working in clay, a medium usually explored by women. He initially modelled animal sculptures and then ventured into making human figurines.

He created important figures in Lesotho’s history, such as King Moshoeshoe and Josua Nau Makoanyane, who was Samuele’s great-grandfather and a chief warrior in King Moshoeshoe’s army. Makoanyane was a prolific artist and it is believed that he created about 250 figures of the Makoanyane warrior figure, and 150 of King Moshoeshoe. Besides the historical figures, he created the people he observed around him, going about their daily pursuits – such as women carrying pots, making beds, and breast feeding babies.

mokoanyane mother
Ceramic sculpture by Samuel Makoanyane (1909-1944) of a woman feeding a baby. Collection of the Iziko Museums of South Africa. Photographic rendition by Stephen Wessels (DIJONDESIGN photogrammetry specialist). From the virtual exhibition KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen developed for the Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Lesotho National Museum and Art Gallery.
meropo
Ceramic sculpture by Samuel Makoanyane (1909-1944) of a woman playing a moropa drum. Kirby Collection, University of Cape Town. Photographic rendition by Stephen Wessels (DIJONDESIGN photogrammetry specialist). From the virtual exhibition KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen developed for the Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Lesotho National Museum and Art Gallery.

Each figurine is finely modelled and anatomically correct. He used linseed oil, paint and various found compounds to denote the eyes and other features. The figures are usually small in scale - ranging from about 8 to 18cm in height. Makoanyane often augmented his clay sculptures with elements from different materials – for example headdresses, spears and shields are depicted using feathers, cast metal, skin, wood and leather.  

Makoanyane also undertook commissions and made unique works for individuals and institutions. In 1935 he received a commission for the production of eight Basuto musicians from Prof. Percival Kirby, at the time the head of the music department at the University of the Witwatersrand. Seven of the eight figures created by Makoanyane can be viewed in this virtual exhibition

Makoanyane’s work was mainly sold in Lesotho and South Africa. His work was also exported to Europe, the USA and the UK. In Lesotho his work was sold at the Fraser’s trading store in Maseru, and their representative, C.G. Damant, was Makoanyane’s friend, agent and patron. Damant, for example, also advised Makoanyane to work in a smaller scale for practical reasons to facilitate packing and transport. In 1951 Damant authored a monograph on the life and work of the artist which was printed at the Morija Printing Press.

warriorwarrior
Ceramic sculpture by Samuel Makoanyane (1909-1944) of warrior Joshua Nau Makoanyane, great-grandfather of Samuele Makoanyane, and a military commander in King Moshoeshoe’s army. Collection of the Iziko Museums of South Africa. Photographic rendition by Stephen Wessels (DIJONDESIGN photogrammetry specialist).

From the virtual exhibition KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen developed for the Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Lesotho National Museum and Art Gallery

Makoanyane’s works are represented in various public institutions. Besides the collections at the Iziko Museums of South Africa, and the Morija Museum in Lesotho, his works can also be found in the collections of Museum Africa in Johannesburg, the Duggan-Cronin Gallery in Kimberley, the National Museum in Bloemfontein, the East London Museum, and the Killie Campbell Museum in Durban.

Makoanyane often inscribed his sculptures with titles and dates and he ended his letter correspondence with the words KE LIHA PENE, which translated means ‘I lay down my pen’. Makoanyane sadly laid down his pen at the early age of 35 after a short but prolific life as a ceramic artist, when he succumbed to tuberculosis.

drums

Ceramic sculpture by Samuel Makoanyane (1909-1944) of a woman playing a moropa drum. Kirby Collection, University of Cape Town. Photographic rendition by Stephen Wessels (DIJONDESIGN photogrammetry specialist). From the virtual exhibition KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen developed for the Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Lesotho National Museum and Art Gallery.

The virtual exhibition KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen places these exquisitely modelled works of Makoanyane in a new and exploratory exhibitory realm. This will further enhance the profile of the artist and contribute to the focus by contemporary scholars of this genre of ceramic sculpture.

KE LIHA PENE – I lay down my pen is accessible via the Iziko Museums website here: https://virtual.iziko.org.za/samuele-makoanyane.html 

Esther Esmyol (Iziko Museums of South Africa) and Jon Weinberg (DIJONDESIGN)