I used to live in South Africa. One of the objects I used to admire a lot was the little cottage industry making wire baskets by local people.
Tucked away in Florida Road, Durban, is the African Art Centre. They are a non- profit organization that use art to uplift disadvantaged communities, to provide an income for women, men and young people that are unwilling to look to government to solve their problems.
These people are able to earn a wage and look after their families as they work from home. Crafters will know what I’m talking about when I say this as it is, usually*, the reason why they decide to become crafters, i.e. they have young children and are unwilling or unable to let them be raised by strangers.
But moving on to the reason for this post, here it is: this telephone wire basket is handmade and totally unique, as handmade items are.
This bright & colorful, beautifully designed shallow wire woven basket is sometimes referred to as a plate. For centuries South Africa’s Zulu people have been famous for their sturdy and beautifully intricate designed baskets woven from grasses and the traditional Zulu Ilala Palm leaf. The weaving was so tight that the best ukhamba baskets were actually used to store traditional beer!
These incredible baskets are still woven in the countryside, but the Zulus living in urban areas have invented a new kind of basket, the imbenge basket woven entirely of recycled plastic coated telephone wire. The baskets are as bright and colourful as the telephone wire, some baskets have accents of bare copper wire woven into their sturdy intricate designs turning them into works of art.
Hand-woven out of telephone wire, the mesmerizing colours and patterns put a modern twist on traditional basket weaving in South Africa. Sometimes called ‘hard wire’ baskets for the stiffness of the walls, weavers wrap coils of telephone wire around a solid metal core, which results in the substantial weight of this basket. This technique lends itself to the weaving of patterns made famous by traditional Zulu bead work and also the weaving of ‘picture plates’. This basket style is the most time-consuming of all the wire baskets to weave.
In the larger sizes, adding just one row to the outer rim while weaving can take 10 times longer than a row at the inside. This is why prices of this type of wire basket get exponentially higher as the sizes get larger. Just adding an inch to this type of basket could represent an extra week or more of work on a large basket.
Mesmerizing designs and vibrant colours are a hallmark of this functional art. This wire basket has a colourful centre triangular design incorporating the following wire colours: white, orange & blue.