Medicine Woman listens attentively to the plants and animals in the forest and shares their healing knowledge with the village of Cosmic People — people with no nationality. This is the storyline of multidisciplinary creative Babalwa Tom’s 30-page colouring-in storybook for children, inspired by African mythology.
Tom did the writing and drawing of Cosmic People, which was edited by Carlyn Strydom of MuseumHer, a virtual and physical art platform. The funds for creating the book came from the Arts & Culture Trust development grant for literature, funded by Nedbank.
“Our concept is that the black and white drawings in this book will be brought to life by children as they colour in the characters,” Tom explains. “It’s an artistic, fun journey of self-exploration at a young age. We hope it encourages a love of the natural world and an understanding that we are all people of the cosmos, where there is no such thing as nationality.”
Cosmic People was inspired by Tom’s self-exploration journey when she spent two years experiencing sustainable living and learning about indigenous medicinal plants with a diverse group of people at the Wild Spirit Lodge, surrounded by the forests, mountains and beaches of the Tsitsikamma National Park along the Garden Route.
Tom returned to Cape Town with new self-understanding, and she continues to work with medicinal and food plants. “I refer to myself as the herb garden keeper and I have a daily routine of meditation, deep breathing, reading and creating. I’m always creating, whether it’s writing or drawing, photography, or making films, prints or clothing.”
Cosmic People is part of this process. Medicine Woman breathes deeply every day so that her heart guides her when she listens to the plants and animals, who help her understand who they are so that she can gain knowledge and share it with the Cosmic People.
Tom’s journey has attracted her to a wide group of real-life cosmic people. One of them is Strydom, who “works with artists who have open and different perceptions of what South Africa is and what it means to be South African”.
What is South Africa, even? is the name of a travelling group exhibition of MuseumHer.
The exhibition unpacks the loaded question of, as Strydom puts it, “a country with a geographical positioning as a name coming to terms with a 25-year-old identity that is ever-changing and asking what its new identity is.”
Tom’s nationality-free Cosmic People playfully addresses the limited definition of identity that a name, race or nationality imposes on people and the barriers it creates between people; Medicine Woman has many different friends, including human, plant and animal.
In the book, the Mbalis are the flowers, Sky is the spirit bird, Khanya is the spider and garden keeper, who weaves all the stories of the animals in the forest in her web, and Thando is the healing aloe. The Cosmic People from Magic Mountain Village come to Medicine Woman for wisdom, medicines, teas, body oils and soap. These make the Cosmic People feel good. And that’s the feeling Tom wants children and adults alike to feel as they adventure through this multi-meaning colouring-in book that will be launched on February 29 at The Book Lounge, 71 Roeland Street, Cape Town.