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Ansisters Event August 2005


Detail from the performance 'Patterns Outside My Head' by Janine Lewis, Rantebeng Makapan and Bonisile Nxumalo. As part of the FACE Ansisters 2005 event, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg.

Copyright © FACE 2005.
All rights reserved.

forum : resources : visual literacy project


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Imbali Visual Literacy project 011 492 3333

• Introduction
• Mission
• Approach
• Teacher Training
• Income-Generation
• Crafts Training
• Kagiso Township
• Newtown Inner City
• What Next
• Museum Education
• Streetchildren Programme
• Educational Resources
• Educational Posters And Games
• Funders And Partners
• Contact Details


The IMBALI Visual Literacy Project was created in 1988, as a project of Women For Peace, when it became clear from the results of a children’s national art competition that children who had little or no access to art at school showed extremely poor perceptual skills.
Since at that time only a tiny minority of schools taught art, this affected the vast majority of children in our country. Today, the learning area "Arts and Culture" is officially on our school timetables; but in reality, the majority of teachers throughout the country are untrained and feel totally ill-equipped in this field. And so the need continues, to train and develop skills, and above all to instill self-confidence in the creative abilities of teachers, learners and youth.
In recent years IMBALI has responded to new and growing issues in the country – such as the need to confront poverty. IMBALI has thus developed its mission and extended its programmes to target not only teachers and learners in school, but also unemployed youth, inner- city homeless street-children and self employed crafts people.



  • To work towards social and personal development through art and culture education training
  • To enable learners to develop and communicate art and craft skills and knowledge
  • To promote visual literacy and awareness of our arts and cultural heritage



Imbali places value on looking and perceiving, i.e. a conscious visual exploration of the world around us. This kind of looking is as important in the creative process as is any other aspect of art making. Visual exploration includes and involves a vast number of elements of our visual world – including but not only art objects, works of craft, design. Through a critical but profound engagement with visual imagery, the learner engages in the process of meaning-making in a layered way- looking at context, materiality, formal art language, and the interrelationship of these.



IMBALI has run courses and workshop programmes to train teachers in art education, in different contexts - short intensive courses in teachers’ centres, and rural community centres, longer in-depth courses in schools, in the inner city, in informal settlements, and in townships.

Our aims are:

  • To enable teachers to develop and teach visual literacy and art making skills
  • To help learners develop imagination and powers of observation
  • To train in creative thinking, critical analysis and assessment skills as well as to develop innovation and problem solving skills
  • To cultivate creative relationships between teachers and learners
  • To understand the ways in which our cultures embody the ideas and values of both individuals and communities
  • To acquire skills with which we can observe, question, challenge and contribute to the values and directions of our communities
  • To develop self-expression, self confidence and a clear sense of individual identity

The training takes the teachers from a basic level in which they are highly supported to the point where they can develop their own lesson materials. Teachers have been involved in every stage of writing and testing our teaching materials.

IMBALI takes into account the very particular context in which these teachers work, their particular needs, as well as available resources which are specific to each situation.

We use easily available and cheap art materials, or recycled and found material .Our approach is extremely hands-on, experiential, and learner-centred. We believe that it is essential that teachers, in order to teach creatively, explore and discover their own intrinsic creativity. Teachers are often astounded at their own previously untapped creativity.

Research is showing that these courses have had an enormous impact on Arts and Culture in these areas. The numbers of learners directly benefiting grows constantly year by year. According to Education Department District officials, in the period from 1999 to 2005, approximately 58 000 learners were directly affected by teachers who have gone through our courses. Our follow-up research indicates, as well, that many of these teachers, in turn pass on skills and knowledge to their colleagues. Some of our teachers subsequent to their Imbali course are requested by their Districts to run Workshop training.

We have worked with a number of partners - including government departments of Education, Arts and Culture, Environment and Social Services. IMBALI has partnerships with the University of the Witwatersrand, corporate funders and NGO’s.

Our ongoing partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand means that all teachers completing a two-year course receive an Advanced Certificate Of Education in Arts and Culture.

Classrooms in the majority of schools in this country are desperately poorly-equipped and teachers lack the training to implement the Arts and Culture curriculum. This is one among many urgent issues clamouring to be met by the Government, and sufficient funding has not yet been channelled to meet this need.

Imbali was chosen as a finalist in the Arts & Culture Trust Art Education Project of the Year competition.

“Today I walk tall when I go to work because I know what I am going to do. I am well empowered in the classroom situation. I am proud to realize that I am an asset of my school through arts and culture."

From a teacher response to our questionnaire, Sebokeng 2001



As unemployment and the resulting poverty cycle have become one of this country’s most pressing problems, the need to train and develop visual literacy skills has taken a special and urgent form. It has become overwhelmingly necessary to develop creative skills that not only give expression to each person’s unique identity, but also lay the groundwork for future earning capacity.

It is now accepted and known that all people have a basic need to express themselves and their unique qualities in creative ways. Being involved in creative processes also helps people become productive, secure and fulfilled human beings.

“ I have sold bags that I designed and ceramics too. I love to see that the things I make can get me money.”

Student Kagiso Centre



It is well documented that craft production in South Africa has become one of the most important sources of income for families without formal employment. Studies by the Departments of Arts and Culture and Trade and Industry in South Africa show that in economically depressed situations, craft production (where it occurs) has a strong and measurable impact on family resources.

Imbali first became involved in crafts training in Mpumalanga in 1998 and 1999, working with rurally-based craftsmen and later training the sixty crafts-women who produced the vast appliquéd panels in the provincial legislature building. From 1999 – 2001 we set up a crafts-training programme for young people awaiting trial, in the Dyambu Youth Centre, West Rand.

Our aims are:

  • To provide crafts training to the unemployed and youth at risk
  • To provide skills necessary to earn an income
  • To train crafts-teachers, building capacity through educational training
  • To promote awareness of South Africa’s diverse and varied cultural heritage in the community
  • To provide students with access to outlets for marketing and selling products
  • To provide basic business and marketing skills
  • To encourage and support quality craft production and instill concepts of originality

IMBALI has worked with CSOs and many local government departments including the Department of Social Services in the area.



In Kagiso township in the West Rand, we embarked on an ambitious project to set up a crafts training programme and workshop for unemployed young people. This project which began early in 2000 in a garage, was then offered a large hall by the Mogale City Council, centrally placed in the township. Here we have been able to extend our skills training programme, primarily in ceramics and textile design, weaving and all kinds of printing including photographic, block and screen-printing.

The course is full-time and lasts three years. We have a fully- equipped studio to teach craftspeople, and to train crafts-teachers in ceramics, weaving, silk-screening, sewing, pattern-making and other textile-design techniques. Students are fully involved in the entire process of designing, developing, making and finishing their products.

Specific crafts course-modules are designed to develop increasing levels of skill and competency, starting from the most basic beginner stage, eventually reaching the point where participants are able to sell their products. Since we are aiming at developing sustainable income-generating activities in the longer term, courses in Life Skills, Project and Financial Management, Market Research, Marketing and Sales are included as part of the training programme.

As this project is based in Kagiso we have been mentoring and encouraging our students to initiate or work in community art projects in an HIV Centre, local hostel, rural Hekpoort, surrounding schools and smaller community based projects. In the longer term this will also provide IMBALI and other organizations with experienced future facilitators. School holiday Programmes continue to be run at the Centre under these trainee facilitators.

A Skills Development Programme at NQF2 level also started in Kagiso this year, which will culminate in a National Certificate for successful participants.

“ I enjoy coming every day because I am learning lots of skills in ceramic and textile designs and how to be creative. I have learned how to make an African pot and how to work out a budget.”

D.S. 2003

“ My ambition is to assist young emerging artists and people from underprivileged communities in arts and crafts.”

K.S. 2004


In 2003 IMBALI was appointed as a training provider for the MAPPP-Seta in Craft Production, part of the Department of Labour’s national skills training programme. The first pilot learnership began in March 2003 in Newtown, Johannesburg’s inner city, training twenty craftspeople from all over Gauteng. They became skilled in technical skills, specializing in using recycled materials. They developed business and marketing skills and advanced their literacy and numeracy levels. This course culminated in a national certificate for each participant at NQF2 level.

In 2004 two new Learnerships began at NQF2 Craft Production and NQF4 Micro Enterprise levels. These are also being run in Newtown and craftspeople from a wide area in and around Gauteng are attending.

These learnerships take a period of one year each. They both work with recycled material, which allows for creative, innovative and sustainable solutions for future entrepreneurial ventures.


IMBALI is currently in the process of setting up an “ Incubator Project” to allow those students selected to continue to be mentored and supported in a space providing the necessary tools and equipment for them to start up their own small businesses. This would be carefully controlled and monitored so that there is a clearly defined progression to total independence.

Participants have had the opportunity to network through these learnerships and have subsequently sold their craft products to local outlets and taken part in a number of markets and exhibitions in and around Gauteng. Some of our participants have also had the opportunity to attend additional training in their field and been offered part time facilitator positions with other service providers.

“ I have developed in different skills. My communication skills were poor but now they have improved. I have gained more experience in working with different material to reproduce different products. This learnership has really touched my life and I can foresee my future as an entrepeneur. The great part of this programme is you learn everything in a practical way.”

L.D. 2003


Museum-based workshop programs are a strong aspect of IMBALI’s work. We are committed to the development of teacher-access to museums, for their rich potential as teaching resources. All teachers on our courses take their learners to museums. But most teachers require special training to be equipped with the “tools” needed to make these experiences engaging and significant.

In 2000, Imbali ran a 5-month educational programme which accompanied the huge exhibition "Blank__ Architecture Apartheid and After" at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg. Groups of learners from a wide range of schools, street-children, teachers, adults, workers and students spent many hours exploring and debating the issues in the exhibition. They also planned and built cardboard cities, covered the walls of the museum with their own artwork, role-played characters from our city’s past and present, discovered their own solutions to its problems.

In 2001, we developed and ran the education programme that accompanied the Joubert Park Project, a programme, which centred on the inner-city, the Park, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery. In this one, young visitors, learners, community youth groups, and street children looked at the mainly video- installation- and performance-based artworks of a huge number of artists responding to the city, and then were taken through workshops and art-making activities, expressing their ideas about the city, the Park, their environment, their lives, building “parks” and planning neighbourhoods...

In 2003 we developed and ran a programme in collaboration with the Taxi Artbook series –an important set of monographs on South African artists. The books were the special focus of these workshops, in which we explored their potential as resources in classrooms. Teachers attending were given their own full set of books to keep and use in the classrooms. In this way we contribute to developing classroom resources and artbook libraries in schools.

In 2004 IMBALI developed and designed an educational programme for teachers, specifically to accompany the "Nine South African Families" Exhibition from Holland, which was installed at The Pretoria Cultural History Museum. This exhibition looked at the history of South Africa through the stories of real people,in order to make this history a vital, exciting and living experience for learners.

It helped to provide insight into tolerance and cultural diversity and rekindle an interest in family history. IMBALI designed booklets and interactive colour posters for participating learners and teachers.



This programme brought two groups of streetchildren into Museum Africa in the inner city twice a week over 18 months for a range of art-making and other activities. The groups quickly became extremely regular and dependable, showing extraordinary growth in interest, commitment, concentration span and excitement. The programme culminated in an exhibition at MuseumAfrica in 2004. This proved to be a very moving and remarkable volume of work, which included detailed evidence of the processes involved.



IMBALI’s rich store of resource materials are being compiled in different ways in order to become more widely available. We are currently working on a number of educational resource books, for instance, which grow out of our work and experience.

A list of our complete and published resources will shortly become available. Our extensively tested and re-tested teacher training materials, too, are soon to become accessible to others.

The book “ Learning from Looking – a handbook for teachers on visual literacy”, will be a vital resource and draws on the experience of IMBALI over seventeen years. It is aimed at teachers and learners at secondary school level and first year tertiary level.

The "Suitcase Project" is another kind of resource which we developed for learners, in which a trunk (actually a Zulu wedding kist) was filled with carefully chosen cultural artefacts (both traditional and contemporary). It contains, as well, detailed and carefully developed Imbali worksheets and information packs, and a video specially made by our team -- telling the stories of the objects in contexts in which they are actually used, bought, worn. Learners interact with and engage with these very directly, learning about South African culture and heritage in a very tangible, immediate and meaningful way.

IMBALI has had on-going input into the development of the new national curriculum through our facilitators, and through direct consultative processes in which we take part.



are available for teachers. These integrate other aspects of the school curriculum with Arts and Culture.



We would be unable to operate without the vital support of our funders and partners over the years, and we are most grateful to them all. They make it possible to bring art, art education and craft to innumerable young people who would otherwise certainly not easily meet such opportunities in their daily lives.
For more information contact:



Write to: P.O. Box 3404, Parklands 2121
Or telephone/fax:011-492 3333
Or e-mail:


Posted 22 April 2006,, author: Imbali Visual Literacy Project.