Basotho Blanket Exhibition

Earlier this year I attended a Basotho blanket exhibition at the Oliewenhuis Art Gallery in Bloemfontein. To be honest I was taken aback by the whole exhibition. Basotho blankets, according to my views at the the time, were cultural artifacts that belonged in their own isolated sphere. So to see the blankets in an artistic exhibition space with all the lighting and white walls induced quite a paradigm shift. The experience recalled an idea from cultural studies, which simply states that, once a cultural artifact is removed from its originalĀ  point of creation it takes on a new meaning. This new meaning is determined by the environment within which it finds itself. So in essence the significance of a cultural artifact is determined by its environment. This is quite interesting to note, because the lady in the photo above is wearing a Basotho blanket cape design by Thabo Makheta, an Eastern Cape based designer. The blanket itself has to some degree retained some of its original significance in that the quality and appearance are that of the standard basotho blankets, but its use-value (the meaning of the thing expressed as the function of that thing) has been altered. It is believed that once King Moshoeshoe I adorned himself with the blanket he expressed that, all a Sotho person needs is a blanket and his knife. Looking back at the time at which the blankets were introduced to the Basotho people this makes sense, but now however that seems to have changed. The use-value of the blankets has long been replaced with its exchange-value ( the meaning of the thing expressed as the price of the thing). This is, because theĀ  average Sotho person today is exposed to a more modern way of living (due to access to technology, transport, shelter, etc.) and thus the blanket takes on a new meaning. The value is then not limited to its functional attributes, but also towards social status. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it allows the modern Sotho person to adapt the cultural artifact to their needs. Such as in the aforementioned example of the Basotho blanket cape design, in which the artifact has been adapted into a fashion context. Fashion is largely credited as an expression of self. So this means that the introduction of the blanket into a commercial sphere can possibly allow the modern Sotho person to express their cultural beliefs without necessarily having to pay the price of living in a cold mountain with a knife.



Basotho blanket mannequin


Guy standing in front of Basotho Blanket


Basotho blankets at Oliwenhuis Art Mueseum


People at basotho blanket exhibition



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *