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  • Writer's pictureJoia Preciosa

Noria Muelwa Mabasa

Noria Muelwa Mabasa is a South African artist known for her traditional sculptures Venda woodcarvings. She was born in May 10, 1938 in the Limpopo Province of South Africa and grew up in a family of artists. Her mother was a traditional healer and artist and her father was a sculptor.


Mabasa began carving at the age of 50 after she received a vision in a dream telling her to become a sculptor. In 1965, she began having recurring dreams of an old woman who showed her how to work in the clay medium, and prompted her to receive local training on the traditional craft. Despite facing significant opposition from her community who viewed woodcarving as a traditionally male pursuit, she persevered and eventually gained recognition for her work.


Her first clay figures were often small and were often given away to local children. She continued to create work inspired by the messages and visions of her dreams.

She began working with clay in 1974 and two years later, in 1976, she became the first Tsonga woman to work in wood. Mabasa's work is heavily influenced by her Venda culture and spirituality, and often depicts the themes of life, death, and rebirth. She is known for her use of traditional Venda materials such as clay, wood, and natural pigments, and for her unique style that combines traditional Venda motifs with contemporary art techniques.


Mabasa's sculptures often explore themes of spirituality, identity, and gender roles.

Her work has been exhibited in galleries, museums both locally and internationally, including the Venice Biennale in 1995, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, South Africa, Italy, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.



She was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga by the South African government for her contribution to the arts and culture of South Africa. she is a recipient of the 2002 Silver category of the Order of the Baobab, also receiving several other national and international accolades and awards for her outstanding artistry and creativity.



Mabasa's work has not only been recognized for its artistic value but also for its cultural significance in preserving and promoting the traditional art of the Venda people. She has also been a mentor and teacher to many young artists, passing on the skills and knowledge she learned from her own family and community.

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