Godfather of woodcarving remains optimistic

Date:01 May 2021 - By: Tshifhiwa Mukwevho

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Despite endless challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, which had left so many artists unable to make a living, internationally acclaimed local artist Thomas Kubayi remains optimistic that the arts and crafts industry will pick up again.

Kubayi is a very talented and popular wood carver, drum builder, musician and storyteller, and is the only surviving member of the three “godfathers of woodcarving” in the area. John Baloyi, famous wood carver, potter, and general crafts master, died in 2006, while the highly accomplished and famous wood sculptor Jackson Hlungwani died in 2010. The three were friends and regularly visited each other, worked together, and shared their knowledge with each other.

Kubayi focuses mainly on sculptures now and teaches art to hundreds of youths and adults in the Vhembe District. “It has not been easy for most of us artists since the beginning of lockdown last year,” he told Limpopo Mirror on Sunday afternoon. “They say we are on Alert Level 2 of the lockdown, but as an artist I have been on Level 5 ever since lockdown was announced. It is not easy to sell our products, as we rely mostly on international art collectors who visit our galleries and buy our art.”

Kubayi expresses his dreams and visions of day-to-day life through his artwork. He likes to make big sculptures, but he purposely also makes smaller carvings, so foreign tourists can take them with in their luggage.

Kubayi is not only a fine sculptor and gifted musician, but a role model to the young, budding artists who learn so much from him, as well as to his community, who acknowledges him for the art legend that he has become. “I have been teaching young people to carve wood, and I support a women’s cooperative in mat weaving and preparation of traditional food,” he said.

Some years ago, Kubayi told the local tourism promoter, Madi a Thavha, that he had been trying to keep up the cultural village life since he was a young boy. Madi a Thavha has been in the frontline for promoting local artists’ work and linking them with international contacts, who buy their work and invite them to international arts festivals.

Kubayi sells and creates his work under the registered trademark Vutshila Art Centre, which is situated at his home in Tshivhuyuni village. His workshop and art gallery are open for visitors and he is available to organise indigenous music performances and woodcarving workshops. “I also teach music and we use indigenous music instruments, which I fashion out of indigenous wood,” he said. “The acoustic sounds of those instruments are rare and mellifluous.”

He is a patient teacher and guests love to do woodcarving workshops in the relaxed, rural atmosphere of the Vutshila Art Centre, with its sweeping views of the villages on the foothills of the Soutpansberg.

“Whenever I enter my gallery and see all my products looking back at me, I feel hope rising in my heart,” he said. “I am confident that things will again fall into place and that both international and local art lovers will come and buy our work.”  

Thomas Kubayi can be followed on social media platforms, contacted on Tel 072 180 2398 or emailed to vutshilaart@yahoo.com.



Thomas Kubayi inside his Vutshila Art Centre. Picture: Tshifhiwa Mukwevho


By: Tshifhiwa Mukwevho

Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho was born in 1984 in Madombidzha village, not far from Louis Trichardt in the Limpopo Province. After submitting articles for roughly a year for Limpopo Mirror's youth supplement, Makoya, he started writing for the main newspaper. He is a prolific writer who published his first book, titled A Traumatic Revenge in 2011. It focusses on life on the street and how to survive amidst poverty. His second book titled The Violent Gestures of Life was published in 2014.

Email: givenmukwevho@yahoo.com