… The wonderful litema posters on the wall of the arrivals hall, Bloemfontein airport
As you wait for your luggage, enjoy pictures of fantastic local artform, litema (pronounced dee teh mah), on the walls and your suitcases seem to arrive a little too soon! This is an art form practised almost exclusively by women. The photographs at the airport are reproduced from a magnificent book by Carina Beyer (see link below) that I found at the national museum in Bloemfontein.
Beyer has researched litema and taken a series of fantastic photographs showcasing the work of the women artists who decorate the outside of their homes with unique designs. Very often houses are decorated before some major celebration like Christmas or a birthday, and Beyer shows how the artists take their inspiration from their natural surroundings, the pattern of lines formed by ploughed fields for example, or the autumn-flowering cosmos, or clouds.
It is a very old art form and as long ago as 1861 French missionaries were already writing about the designs, which they described as “ingenious”. Beyer has produced a second, companion volume, also available from the national museum, which records some of the litema designs in a graphic format that will surely inspire anyone involved in patchwork projects.
The litema designs are a little like those of the Ndebele, but far more organic, less rigidly geometric, more playful and whimsical. The designs can’t be put on over conventional cement and plaster, but they work well with mud walls.
Sometimes artists incorporate a three-dimensional aspect as well, with sections in which small stones are pressed into the design or grooves made in the pattern so that a rich texture results and we’ve seen examples of this kind of work in Lesotho itself.
I imagine tourists arriving at the airport in Bloemfontein will be struck by the fabulous photos of litema that welcome them to the province, and will want to see places that have been decorated in this style.
So are there houses decorated with litema on farms in the Smithfield district, and if so, where? And are there any women in the Smithfield area who know how to do it?
It’s a unique cultural art form, and if we have women in our area who are already producing litema, we should be highlighting them and showing them off to our tourist visitors.
If you can help with this, please contact me on 082 551 3293.