Lukhanyo Mdingi focuses on textiles, literature and music in his latest exhibition

Lukhanyo Mdingi and Trevor Stuurman of The Manor.

Lukhanyo Mdingi and Trevor Stuurman of The Manor.

Published Apr 11, 2024


I arrived at the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill on the opening night of “The Provenance II” and it was already packed. Guests lined up to get a glass of Moët while others were browsing through art on display.

Judging by the fashion, you could tell it was an event of one of South Africa’s most prominent designers, Lukhanyo Mdingi.

I shot straight to the exhibition room on the right, and as I entered, “The Provenance II” was written in bold on the left side of the wall.

As I scanned the room, I saw old books from the Xhosa literature and a dining room display which looked like most vintage black households.

Xhosa books displayed at “The Provenance” exhibition.

During the ’90s and early 2000s, most black households had a sideboard used to store opulent plates and cups reserved for special occasions, and Mdingi’s was no different.

As I continued to evaluate the art, I was taken aback by the collage of South Africa’s conscious leaders who were at the forefront of apartheid.

I’m talking about your Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe, Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and many others. That alone told me that Mdingi is part of Black Consciousness and cares about the history of this country.

On the right side were his famous fabrics, the mohair wool, which he uses frequently in his collections.

From there, I moved to the room on the left, where I was greeted by these huge speakers with Amadodana Ase Wesile music playing in the background and from there, I was able to put together the pieces of “The Provenance II” puzzles, which are Textiles, Literature and Music.

After a moment of socialising, Mdingi’s assistant found me sitting on the bench in the music room to take me to interview the man of the moment.

I couldn’t help but notice how everyone wanted a piece of him. Not because it was his exhibition, but because of his aura and how humble and welcoming he was.

Once we found a quiet spot outside, he explained that “The Provenance II” stems from the Bantu heritage and he wanted to distil that through three different themes.

An archive of the Mdingi sideboard.

“The intention of this, more than anything, was just for personal quest. I wanted to feel more rooted in some of the subject matters that matter to me.

“The best way for myself and as a designer and fellow collaborator was to create part two, and the transition was incredibly seen as I partnered with an incredible co-creator by the name of Banele Khoza and The Manor and I think all three entities brought such as sense of engineer to make this project a success,” said Mdingi.

A tape deck that was used for studio recordings in the 1980s.

It is no secret that the multi-award-winning designer loves textiles, hence it’s one of the themes of his exhibition.

As a conscious designer who is all about creating sustainable fashion, Mdingi’s stance on sustainability is simple. He cares for the people and the planet they live on.

“Our approach is to be considerate more than anything. I love materiality, but I also love human beings. I love being in a position where I can collaborate with people who have an extraordinary amount of finesse in what they do.

“When it comes to materials, it feels like a no-brainer to take on an approach where we work with fabrics and yarns that we are very familiar with and understand the provenance of.

“So it’s a case of respecting what we do, who we do it with and the materials that we essentially work with,” he explained.

In the music room, I noticed that most guests enjoyed the music and were familiar with the songs playing in the background.

Well, this is because gospel resonates with so many South Africans and almost every Christian household used to/still does listen to Amadodana Ase Wesile. Included in their songs in Mdingi’s exhibition was a hymn that spiritually speaks to him.

A collection of Amadodana Ase Wesile CDs.

“There’s a very specific hymn they created back in the 1980s called ‘Siyakudumisa Thixo’, originally for the Methodist Church. I realised it was such an impactful, powerful hymn that it resonated with so many black homes and Dominicans within the Christian church where they adapted that very hymn into their own, and I think there’s something powerful in that.

“ It is a hymn, a prayer, a song of praise and thankfulness, and it is incredibly spiritual. And I believe that it’s just that piece of music that has resonated with many black homes,” Mdingi said.

“It felt necessary to highlight the importance of it, but I was also really curious to see how we are more alike than different, and there are so many different touch points in black homes, specifically within the context of South Africa, that are so alike.

“And I think things such as literature and music bind us together.”

A collage of African leaders who were part of the Black Consciousness Movement.

Between 2022 and 2023, Mdingi did incredible things, but the two that stood out the most were showcasing at Paris Fashion Week and winning the prestigious Amiri Prize.

Those two moments changed his life because they exposed the Lukhanyo Mdingi brand to a wider audience while granting the brand a global status.

“There’s so much power in bringing your point of view to a new different audience, especially if it’s not within your immediate environment. It just brings more visibility to the bigger picture of those in the industry. The Lukhanyo Mdingi brand having these opportunities brings more light to other South African designers and creatives,” said Mdingi.

And having grown from being known as a Cape Town-based designer to internationally acclaimed, Mdingi is grateful.

“I’m so thankful for the opportunities that have been awarded to us, from the Amiri Prize and the personal networks that we’ve been able to create within South Africa and outside of South Africa,” he said.

This year, he is planning on opening more doors through collaborations and working on even more exciting collections.

“The Provenance II” is currently showing at Constitution Hill until June 17.