Noria Mabasa

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South African Sculptor and Woodcarver

First name: 
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
10 May 1938
Location of birth: 
Xigalo, Limpopo Province (then Transvaal), South Africa

Noria Mabasa was born May 10, 1938 in Xigalo in the Limpopo Province in South Africa. She received formal education for only one year, having to walk three hours a day to the nearest school. She carried out household chores throughout her childhood. 

At the age of 14, Mabasa moved to her brother’s house in Soweto to assist her brother’s wife, who had gone blind during childbirth. After a year, Noria moved to Johannesburg with her cousin. It was there that she met Jim Mabasa, who she would marry in 1955. She settled in Vuwani for a few years and returned to Venda after her divorce.

In the early 1970’s, after a long struggle for economic survival, Mabaso began making clay sculptures of Domba figures. She explains, "I started because of a dream. It took a very long time, because I didn't understand it well. This was in 1965 and in 1974, I started the work".

In 1983, after meeting the Venda sculptor Nelson Makhuba, she was encouraged to venture into woodcarving. Her skill made her the first black woman, and the only Venda woman in South Africa, to become a famous wood carver. She also began to create works which followed more contemporary themes.

Her figures of traditional ceremonies, women with babies, and those that capture daily life around her reflect profound expressiveness and mastering of her craft. She conveys the experience of apartheid from a Venda women’s perspective focusing in the exploration of her origins, displacement, race, and sex.

Her work contemplates the feeling of social rejection, censure, and disapproval that comes with diverging from the established guidelines of accepted and expected behaviour. Although she had no formal art training, Mabasa’s natural artistic talent manifests extreme sensitivity. This has given her national and international recognition.

In 1985, she was introduced to Ditike – The Craft House of Venda, a project of the Venda Development Corporation which recognized her ability, and began promoting her work.

• Loots, A. (2004) “Noria Mabasa” in ARTicle [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 April 2009]
• Lee, D. (2006). Noria Mabasa: Carving her Name in History. Published by Awareness Publishing.
• Arnold, M. and Schmahmann, B. (2005) Between Union and Liberation: Women Artists in South Africa 1910 - 1994. Chapter Nine: “Narratives of Migration in the Works of Noria Mabasa and Mmakgabo Sebidi”. Published by Ashgate Publishing. p. 174

Last updated : 27-Feb-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011

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