If you’re passionate about the arts and love exploring local talent, it is well worth a visit to the KwaMuhle Museum. Visitors can enjoy the various exhibitions on display, an impressive concrete sculpture by Ledelle Moe reflecting the plight of migrant workers or photographs by S.B Bourquin which relate to forced removals and the creation of townships. The museum is also particularly notable for its exhibition on the Durban System which explores how the state tried to control the influx of people into the city and regulated lives by monopolising the production of Zulu beer, creating segregated living quarters, and erecting beer halls.
The remarkable “double-storey, Union-style building”, was once the headquarters of the Native Administration Department, an infamous space that regulated harsh systems of labour control. The building has since been transformed and now reflects the growth of Durban as an urban city centre and the various stories of its inhabitants. Once a place of extreme repression, the museum’s exhibitions now have a different goal:
The vision of all the exhibits centres on correcting the inaccuracies in the historical record left by apartheid, to create a heritage and context for our new democracy that is forthright, candid and honest.
The Shadows of the Past by Ledelle Moe
A unique, and outdoor, element of the museum is Ledelle Moe’s remarkable concrete sculpture entitled “The Shadows of the Past.” The piece can be seen in the eastern section of the museum’s courtyard and is composed of three naked concrete figures. These figures embody mineworkers, and their nakedness speaks to the lack of support and protection that they experience.
Moe uses concrete as her primary medium, highlighting the fact that it is both an “historical and industrial idiom” that is able to explore a range of paradoxes, including “monumentality and fragility, permanence and impermanence, [and] personal and political mythologies.” Her latest work explores themes such as land displacements and transitions. Moe sometimes uses soil in her sculptures, noting:
…how ground, land, soil, and earth reference a sense of belonging. Perhaps the very act of taking dirt and including it in these works was a momentary act of appropriation of the land and soil, for by including it in the work I take it, I replace it. This small gesture for me, spoke to a larger issue of land as identity.
Moe played a role in the arts in Durban in the early 1990s as one of the founding members of the FLAT Gallery. This gallery sought to challenge the limits and restrictions of the artistic scene in Durban and highlighted how informal spaces can also showcase the arts and make them accessible. The gallery housed a number of performances, exhibitions, and multi-media events.
Moe has created an impressive body of work throughout her ambitious career and has taught on university campuses across the United States and in South Africa. She is currently the head of sculpture at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town. She has exhibited her work across the globe, including in Miami, Stockholm, Switzerland, New York, and more.