Hand-crafted artefacts, ancient or modern, all have stories, either of their history or of the maker. In a mass-produced world, artisan products are unique, each one slightly differs from the other as the hand of the maker is never entirely consistent. Amatuli have collected an impressive variety of artefacts from all over the world, working with craftsmen, supporting projects and encouraging entrepreneurship. As a modest collector of primitive art over many years, I loved meeting Mark Valentine and hearing some of the stories of the adventures he wraps around his collecting. – Meryl Hare
Orient House in Sydney carry artefacts from Amatuli. Jenny and Adam Liebson travel to Africa to select their stock themselves, so can pass on the stories or background of most of the pieces, making them that much more special to the purchaser. Recently, whilst in South Africa, Meryl caught up with Mark Valentine at Amatuli to learn a bit more about his journeys, the artefacts and the Amatuli story…
When did you start Amatuli & how has it evolved? For over 25 years we have been sourcing, collecting and trading in furniture, rare artefacts and interior objects. From trading wares on the side of the road to the trove of unique treasures you see in Amatuli’s Kramerville (Johannesburg, South Africa) warehouse today, our adventures have yielded great things. It all began in 1988 when Christine and myself, delved into the dark corners of Africa to find rare African collectables, bringing back an unusual and exotic bounty for museums and collectors. Very soon we were extending our travel routes to include India, China and the islands of Indonesia. And the adventures have been building ever since. Now, with Elize van der Merwe at the helm, there are plenty of extraordinary objects to be found. Elize makes it her mission to build the most desirable destination for the discerning shopper in the world.
What inspires you? Being far away from the noise and busyness of life. I love venturing into the unknown, and few untouched places still left on earth, where there’s no mobile phone reception and wifi, where life is simple. In these places and amongst these people you will find the greatest and most authentic inspiration.
Do you only trade in Africa? Not only Africa, also in China, Indonesia and India. Our trade routes are ever expanding; we are always looking for new artefacts and interesting objects around the world.
How important are the relationships that you build with the crafts-people who supply Amatuli and how do you maintain them? Without our traders and artisans our business would not exist. You have to understand without them there would be no Amatuli. Relationships are maintained through fair dealings and strong business practice – these two things make our relationships with dealers and traders sustainable.
Do you encourage entrepreneurship through your trading? Of course! Innovation and entrepreneurship in the African art landscape is imperative to our business, even more so going forward.
Can you share a few of the stories in acquiring some of your artefacts or objects? About 10 years ago a friend and I took a 1500km drive, in old 4×4, from Bamako to Timbuktu, with no planning at all. Little did we know what we were in for! Some of my many most treasured items are the salt blocks I found in Timbuktu. Each one has the unique signature of the trader carved into it. Africa’s ultimate trading commodity was not gold, diamonds, slaves or ivory it was SALT! Not sea salt but rock salt from the Sahara Desert. No meat could be stored with out. In the salt mines of Aruwan the age-old saying “He ain’t worth this salt” originated. Aruwan is one of the hardest places to visit; to get there you need to undergo a tough desert crossing through the Sahara, a desert run by the Tuareg people – a fierce, boundary-less nomadic tribe who call the Sahara home. These guys do the hell passage – 57 days by camel from Timbuktu to Morocco.
Images care of Amatuli and Roelene Prinsloo for Food & Home Entertaining