I wanted to weep when I saw 100 year old Barbara Tyrell’s art exhibition, Iqholo le Africa, Her African Pride at the Iziko SA National Gallery. Tribal dress with a fashion-drawing twist, painted some sixty years ago from the back of a little travelling van in which she toured the length and breadth of the country, sometimes with her little boy. It was the meticulous typewriter captions that really got to me – echo of an era past – but the fact that she got it together to find out, not only the whereabouts of the wearers, but to go where they were, to sit and talk to the women while she drew – they were mostly women – in Zulu, to find out and note the significance of their traditional clothes, was such a respectful thing to have done.
And ten points to the late archivist Killie Campbell for recognising Barbara’s work. In design terms, it’s a truly inspirational collection that Campbell kept togther and that you can see now at the National Gallery in Cape Town till mid July this year. So very special at the opening, where the occasion was celebrated with an Ndebele styled birthday cake – was that Barbara was there raising a clenched fist, around her hanky, and cheering along with the crowd.
I studied fashion-drawing once and have forgotten more than I ever knew – but if I lived to be 200 I couldn’t hope to come close to such an achievement. Go girl Barbara. Fabulous. And special mention to her niece by marriage, Cindy Tyrell for ensuring that Barbara’s work got the space it deserved.