Bibliophilia Book Reviews: May 2018

In Cattle of the Ages – Ankole cattle in South Africa

By Cyril Ramaphosa

(R850), Cyril Ramaphosa reveals his passion and love for cattle as he introduces us to the magnificent Ankole cattle, originating in Uganda, and now, through his intervention, flourishing in South Africa. He reflects on the legacy bequeathed him by his father, Samuel Mundzhedzi Ramaphosa, who had to leave behind his cattle herd in Venda to find work in Johannesburg. The love of cattle runs deep in South Africans and Cyril is fulfilling his father’s legacy, instilling a new pride for South Africans with these remarkable cattle. A few years ago the Nguni reigned supreme, now the attention and focus is on these animals with their soaring horns. This hardcover book is designed by Gabrielle Guy and will become a collector’s piece.

The Owl House

By Helen Martins

(R320) is a visionary outsider art environment unlike any other, located in the small village of Nieu Bethesda in the isolated South African Karoo, what was once the childhood home of Helen Martins was transformed into a work of uncommon originality. During her lifetime, Helen was misunderstood and was widely regarded as being ‘crazy’. Living in seclusion on a meagre pension, she created the Owl House in the face of much adversity. Lacking any formal art training and using materials readily at hand – recycled glass bottles, builders cement, mirrors and wire – she created what is now internationally regarded as an outsider art environment of outstanding interest. Assisted by helpers – chiefly Koos Malgas who under her supervision built many of the statues in her sculpture yard – she spent more than twenty-five years creating the Owl House, increasing the complexity and density of the work by a slow process of accretion. The Owl House remains a powerful testimony to the triumph of imagination.

The Big Picture

By Natalie Knight

(R400) is Natalie Knight’s Art-o-Biography – part-memoir, part-art history, filled with beautiful art images, society photos of the time and the stories behind many of the pieces she sold. Natalie rubbed shoulders with the who’s who in the art and socialite world during her ‘reign’ as owner of the landmark gallery in Hyde Park(1980-1995). She also discovered, exposed and worked with many South African artists before they were well-known names – including Willem Boshoff, Esther Mahlangu, Alfred Thoba and Thomas Kgope. In her Art-o-Biography, Natalie remembers the guts, glory (and a little gossip) of the South African art scene of the eighties – with all its ego, talent, quirkiness and glamour. This book is a beautiful photographic romp through art and social history.