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The Larger-Than-Life Puppetry Of South African Designer Macdonald Mfolo

Okayafrica takes a look at the surreal puppetry work of South African costumer and designer Macdonald Mfolo.

The work of South African costumer and puppetmaker Macdonald Mfolo caught our eye after a recent interview with Another Africa highlighted the large scale puppets he created as part of the collaborative fashion and photography exhibition NOT x Chris Saunders. The cross-cultural project fuses the work of South African artisans and designers together with that of Jenny Lai, a New York-based experimental womenswear designer, and Chris Saunders, a photojournalist living and working in Johannesburg. The exhibition puts a spotlight on the social and cultural climates that creatives from New York and South Africa find themselves inhabiting while showcasing the viability of global collaborations in this digital age.


Mfolo, who is based in the Orange Farm township and picked up his puppet-making skills a few years ago as part of the production crew on the Pale Ya Rona Carnival, primarily works as a costume designer for the Pantsula dance group Real Action Pantsula. His full-bodied puppets are put together using papier-mâché and re-purposed materials such as discarded cement bags salvaged from construction sites and plastic bottles from a nearby recycling depot. Mfolo's collaboration with Lai takes the vibrant Pantsula aesthetic and blends it with Lai's avant-garde apparel for a surreal visual experience captured through Saunders' lens and channeled through the movements of South African performance artist Manthe Ribane, who wears the puppet suits.

Though his puppet-making work currently exists only within the sphere of performance, Mfolo's goals are and always have been community-oriented. "I want to create a skills college," he told Another Africa. "I think skills development needs to be more emphasized in South Africa. We export a lot of things instead of creating them here." In 2005, he established Farmland Production, a free workshop-based initiative that aims to empower local women and youth by teaching basic sewing skills that would help the community to become more self-sufficient. In addition to this, Mfolo's organization produces uniforms for local schools, and spearheads talent showcases and dance competitions. Read the full interview to learn more about the emerging designer and  click through the gallery above for a peek at Mfolo's work and process.

NOT x Chris Saunders will be on display at Wallplay in New York City beginning September 10th.

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Photo: Courtesy of Saphir Niakadie

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