Exclusive Interview with jewellery designer Themba Mantshiyo!

I had the pleasure of meeting Themba Mantshiyo at the Thuthuka Jewellery Programme closing exhibition at the FADA Gallery in Johannesburg. Themba is this year’s overall winner from the exhibit, and it is no surprise why. Beyond his technical and design skills he is an artist on an intellectual and spiritual level. It’s rare to meet an artist that is so focused on his goals and that has so many deep layers of thought and process that seem to be effortlessly translated to his work. I got to visit Themba’s studio in Auckland Park, Johannesburg and talk about his art, life and inspirations.

Themba came to Johannesburg in 2012 from North West to attend the Thuthuka Jewellery Development Program at the University of Johannesburg, and hasn’t stopped since. He had received a sponsored learnership to attend, but when he arrived in Johannesburg that January, the sponsor pulled out. “I told myself, even if I can get through one year… I just wanted to do it” and he is still here, well over a year later with the earnest to proudly say that he could not have done it without the support of his amazing mother and family.

I feel that I’m not doing this for myself. I don’t think about food, I can have nothing to eat – I need to just sit and just make. I would take the last of my money to buy silver to create…



AurumEve: So in some places I see your name as Gerson and in others as Themba. Which name do you go by officially?
ThembaMantshiyo: Gerson is the name given to me by my father, but I also feel that as South Africans we have consumed so much from other cultures like the name Gerson, so I see using my African name Themba as a significant and official gesture.


AurumEve: Tell us about your inspiration, why you make the pieces you make.
ThembaMantshiyo: I am interested in addressing social issues, specifically for women.
Take a look at this- (Themba shows me an intricate piece of jewelry with a complex entrapping almost hidden below it) -look at this. If you did not know there was gold inside, you can’t see it or acknowledge it. Even for this to look how it does, there is something supporting it, giving it the form. Because of the use of certain fine materials, I can speak to such.
Also, this idea that Africans are not creative, is one of the things that I am trying to address. I’m going to represent my community and then I am going to represent my district and then my province and then my country, and that’s where I am headed. We can have our culture in jewelry instead of society just buying what they know. We can use our symbolism and signs infused in fine jewelry and be successful internationally. Yes, I wanted to go to the States at one point, but I realized, I can’t leave my people, there is so much to do here in this way. One thing I’ve realized is the power of art. There is so much that one can do.
AurumEve: I couldn’t agree with you more. With globalization, it’s an opportunity for artists all over the world to stop over-consuming other cultures as you mentioned, and challenge what is dictated as “fine art” and redefine this concept as well as show the universal value, design and creativity that has been there the whole time in nonwestern society.

I create jewelry constantly, and even this is sometimes not enough to express myself…


AurumEve: What is one of the defining characteristics of your pieces? And who are your main clients?
ThembaMantshiyo: The way I manipulate metal gives more texture than normally seen. I’m often asked what material I’ve used- people often think I use platinum as opposed to silver, but it is the way I work with the metals that does this.  Many art enthusiasts are my clients. You can’t carry a painting with you, but you can carry art with you as a piece of jewelry.


AurumEve: How many people do you work with or are you designing and making every single piece?
ThembaMantshiyo: It’s just me! I love creating each piece by hand.


AurumEve: With these rings, it reminds me of diamonds. Where you trying to reframe the idea of diamonds or was there another direction behind it?
ThembaMantshiyo: It’s part of my aesthetic. I can’t say I love the idea of using precious stones, especially diamonds, because I believe there is more to design than that. If you look at Lalique’s work – it was enamel and it was amazing and beautiful. There is so much you can do without diamonds.


AurumEve: Your descriptions for your work are very nuanced and layered. It’s amazing and one of the most involved I’ve seen. How long does your conceptual phase take and how does it work?
ThembaMantshiyo:  (Smiles knowingly) I can’t measure the amount of time, but (picks up and leafs through a colorful book of sketches) I have about 10 or 12 of these! I wake up in the middle of the night and must represent what I see. I might have an idea now, that I add to over time, and when I feel that I’ve reached the right point to create it, maybe a year later – I’ll feel and know when it’s time to make it.
AurumEve: Where do you see yourself going next? In five years?
ThembaMantshiyo: I’m trying to build an empire in the international arena. It is where I am headed. I want to compete internationally.


AurumEve: What is a significant piece of jewelry in your life? Whether it’s something that was given to you or you’ve given to someone and can you tell us the story?
ThembaMantshiyo: Last year (pulls a magazine) we made these jewelry pieces with the theme of honoring women, and I made two pieces. It’s significant because it is recognizing that women are out there, building up societies. For me seeing them being honored- in a way it touches me, because one thing that I’ve realized is that women are not celebrated enough. My mother and my sister are such amazing women.

I try to make the invisible visible…


Images courtesy of AurumEve and Themba Mantshiyo.

6 Comments on Exclusive Interview with jewellery designer Themba Mantshiyo!

  1. Incredibly beautiful, and detailed pieces. The craftsmanship is insane. I have not seen much pieces in silver this ornate. The earrings with the flowery detailing is my favorite so far. Its a bit reminiscent of cut and folded paper but made with silver. I love it! Great collection! He has the right mentality and the drive needed to be successful.

  2. Wonderful interview! Thank you, AurumEve, for sharing Themba’s work and inspiration. I love how he uses his craft to represent the strength of women! I also love how each of his pieces is a wearable work of art. Great work!

  3. love it!

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