Pilato Bulala: Transforming Scraps into “Scraptures" | iinfo TZANEEN

Pilato Bulala, like many young boys in rural South Africa, loved making toy cars out of wire and discarded pieces of metal he collected around his village in northern Limpopo. But as Pilato grew older, his metal creations became bigger and more elaborate. The toy cars grew — until they were large enough to actually sit in, with bicycle tyres as wheels — and eventually Pilato built an entire “flying machine”, made of zinc and held together by wire.
 
Today Pilato is one of northern Limpopo’s most inventive sculptors, collecting bakkie loads of rubbish that he welds into scrap metal sculptures — or “scraptures” as Pilato calls them. 
 
In 2010, while collecting firewood, Pilato suffered a serious injury and is now blind in one eye. But this setback didn’t stop him from pursuing his art. The words painted on the side of the miniature bakkie Pilato built read: Never Give Up.
 
Pilato’s homestead — a small cement house, a neat thatched hut serving as an art studio, and an outdoor area protected by a metal roof where Pilato displays his work for visitors — is enchanting. Everywhere you look there are metal sculptures of every shape and size: birds with long wire legs and beaks; children with heads made from washers and bolts; women with skirts made from old bicycle gears and chains. 
 
Pilato holds up a clunky, curved car part. “This will be a dolphin fish,” he says.
 
Pilato’s “scraptures” are more than just simple figures; many of them are complete scenes that tell complex stories about South African history and culture. One work portrays a man slipping a paper ballot into a box on voting day, celebrating the 25th anniversary of democracy in South Africa. Another depicts the iconic photograph of the death of Hector Pieterson during the 1975 Soweto Uprisings. A tall, thin sculpture illustrates a gogo making traditional African beer. A fourth, which Pilato says is his favourite, shows a woman walking behind a cow, collecting piles of dung for polishing the floors of her home. 
 
Pilato also creates smaller keepsakes for those who want to buy his art but don’t have space in their suitcases for heavy metal sculptures. Laid out neatly on the table are rows and rows of earrings carved from tin cans. Some are carved with intricate patterns Pilato makes using hand-made metal tools, further decorated with dainty glass beads. Others make use of the patterns on the cans they are cut from, like a pair of black-and-white earrings made from the barcode section of the can.
 
Pilato’s gentle demeanor and subtle enthusiasm for his craft make it impossible to leave his home empty-handed. Be sure to stop at the ATM before visiting.
 
Pilato Bulala’s home studio is located about ten kilometers south of Elim near the village of Mbhokota, just off the R578. For directions, contact Pilato at 072-343-1202 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Pilatobulala. Visits to Pilato can also be arranged through Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge

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