Masabelaneni: The Book Arts Archive of the Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers

An Introduction to the Archive, its History and Scope

Prof. David Paton, Associate Professor in Visual Art, University of Johannesburg and Senior Researcher at the JGCBA, Wits Art Museum, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Malcolm Christian and I both arrived at the Fine Art Department of the University of the Witwatersrand in 1981, myself as a student and Malcolm as a lecturer in printmaking, specifically screenprinting and lithography. Our interaction was relatively short: a two-week introduction to screenprinting processes in 1982 following which Malcolm was an adviser to my printmaking studio practice throughout 1983. He took a sabbatical in 1984 to complete his MA degree at the University of Natal, whilst also investigating the possibilities of lithography in Salzburg and briefly considering replacing Jules van der Vijver in the Printmaking Department of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT. Notwithstanding my feelings of abandonment at the time, that short period of interaction was the catalyst for a relationship that has lasted for over forty years.

During a visit to ceramicist David Walters at his Caversham Mill studio Malcolm and his wife Rosmund discovered the 1878 Wesleyan chapel (Fig. 1) higher up on the road leading from the Mill. The Methodist Church, who owned the chapel, agreed to sell them the land and building provided the Christians took care of the many settler graves on the site. They approached Robert Brusse, one of South Africa’s leading conservation architects, to help restore the ecclesiastical building and build a home for the family that embodied the tranquility of the site with its views down to the Lions River.

Figure 1, Original 1878 Wesleyan chapel, Caversham, KZN.

In 1984, having decided not to take up another urban university lectureship in Cape Town, Malcolm left Wits University.1 Ros was relieved to be out of Johannesburg with their young children Terry and Sally, and Malcolm opened The Caversham Press the following year with the printing of the Johannesburg Centenary Print Portfolio.2 Philippa Hobbs and Elizabeth Rankin (1997:24) state that the establishment of The Caversham Press in 1985, ‘seemed to signal the beginning of a new growth of independent print studios… .’ and they add, ‘ The success of this collaborative studio had encouraged the establishment of other similar ventures, although each has its own distinctive character.’3 Marion Arnold (2011:10-11) reminds us that, ‘Although 1985 was not a propitious year for a new venture demonstrating faith in the human spirit, a decision taken by [Christian] had consequences that shaped many lives for decades'.

In 1987, Robert Hodgins, Deborah Bell and William Kentridge produced a series of etchings for an exhibition titled Hogarth in Johannesburg,4 and from 1988, Malcolm began working with individual artists or small groups including Thami Jali, Shakes Moses Buthelezi, and Sfiso Mkame. In 1990 he exhibited Five Years at the Caversham Press at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (now Makhanda). Malcolm then reached out to local communities and began running workshop programmes with local artists, community leaders and school children.5 His premise was ‘that interaction and dialogue were the foundation of collaboration (the sharing of responsibility), itself a process intrinsic to print production’ (Arnold 2011:12).

Figure 2, Art Meets Science: Flowers as Image (1992)

At the 1992 Standard Bank National Arts Festival Marion Arnold, curator of the exhibition Art Meets Science: Flowers as Image (Fig. 2), invited The Caversham Press to contribute a suite of prints. Developing from this botanical project was a five-year undertaking between Malcolm and Douglas Goode in which a limited edition, handmade book entitled The Cycad Collection: Volume 1 Natal Province (1993-98) (Fig. 3) was produced.

Figure 3, Douglas Goode (illustrations), John Comrie-Greig (text), Brett Hendey (preface), P. Vorster (introduction) and Peter Carstens (bookbinding), The Cycad Collection: Volume 1 Natal Province (1993-98)

In 1994, Malcolm purchased a Vandercook Universal III letterpress proofing press to handprint the text for this book. At a conference of designer bookbinders in Oxford that year, Malcolm met typographer Alan Dodson who assisted him with the finer points of page design.6 Conidaris (2002:27) states that both the inspiration provided by this conference and the work that this book provoked formed the embryo of Malcolm’s later concept of The Caversham Press as a creative centre for writers as well as artists.

The non-profit Caversham Educational Trust was registered in 19937 and was initially funded by Malcolm and Ros, and later by funders including the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the Department of Arts and Culture through the support of John Samuel, National Director of Tertiary Education. As a member of The Caversham Press Print Collector, John was aware of Caversham’s educational initiatives and in 1998, as director of Africa Programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, he awarded Caversham Educational Trust a grant to explore the establishment of international residencies and to run a pilot project. At this time through a serendipitous meeting with Harriet Sanford, director of the Fulton County Arts Council (GA, USA), a partnership was formed which led to a residency and exhibition entitled The Hourglass Project: A Women’s Vision, a Dialogue for the Millennium (1999). The success of this led to the establishment in 2000 of The Caversham Centre for Artists and Writers, and a series of annual Residency Programmes which lasted for over a decade. The prints and books produced through these theme-based projects were exhibited in Atlanta GA and South Africa.In A Women’s Vision (Fig. 4), 15 women artists produced 30 prints and a portrait book. In the book, participants drew someone with whom they had bonded during the course of the project. The facing pages of the recto/verso structure of the expansive leporello (accordion-fold) helps forge the relational experiences of the participants.8 Malcolm (2023) states that the image of the hourglass embodied ideas of bringing individual people together (as grains of sand) in movement, coming from and to different places through the agency of the residency programme. With the leadership programme running parallel to the residencies, the idea was to turn peoples’ perceptions upside down in order to acknowledge that within the individual participant exists not a paucity, but a capacity to contribute value.

Figure 4, Bronwen Findlay, Patricia Hurl, Pip Curling, Bongi Bengu, Semina Mpofu, Mildred Thompson, Fiaza Galdhari, Elaine Kennedy, Cristina Cardenas, Grace Tshikuvhe, Lynn Vernell Marshall, Sophie Peters, Sheila Flynn, Lynne Allen and Deborah Bell, The Hourglass Project: A Women’s Vision, a Dialogue for the Millennium (1999)

In 1997 Malcolm had attended a fine art book symposium in the United Kingdom where he met the English bookbinder, Alan Winstanley. Conidaris (2002:31) relates that on,

returning to Kwazulu-Natal, he was offered the opportunity to obtain bookbinding equipment from a retiring binder in Cape Town. Thanks to a donation from the Royal Netherlands Embassy, Christian was able to purchase the complete facility ... . Winstanley visited The Caversham Press in early 1998 and gave Christian some advanced training in hand bookbinding.

Malcolm utilised his bindery in part for Education Trust workshops, and invited book and paper conservators Johan Maree and Keith Seaford, from the University of Cape Town, to run annual bookbinding workshops to further his interest in the printed image and the printed word (Conidaris 2002:32). Malcolm’s love of the book as a sculptural structure 9 in which to explore and hold the experiences of the artists who visited Caversham has been evident since these first workshops. He started encouraging visiting artists to produce small edition artists’ books, combining printing with hand binding. One such book is Hodgins’s screenprinted, concertina-fold Ubu Limericks and Clerihews (1998) (Fig. 5) featuring text and images. Along with The Cycad Collection, Ubu entrenched Malcolm’s interest in combining text with imagery which developed ‘from a love for paper and printing processes into a desire to create [the] centre for artists and writers’ (Conidaris 2002:32).

Figure 5, Robert Hodgins, Ubu Limericks and Clerihews (1998)

In 2014 the University of KwaZulu-Natal awarded Malcolm the Degree of Doctor of Literature honoris causa for ‘his commitment to the value of human creativity, the common bonds of humanity and the educative power of collaboration’ (UKZN 2014). Addressing the graduation audience Malcolm said that,

looking at how to share with you the significance of personal legacy, I returned to the time when I faced one of those crossroads, one that required me to think about what I wanted my legacy to be, resulting in the establishment of [The] Caversham Centre for Artists and Writers. There had always been components of education and the visual arts in what I had done and yet even though these both include knowledge and skills development, it was the core purpose that I wanted to make a focus – the content or meaning behind the work (UKZN 2014).

Press Educational Trust and established Senzokuhle, an empowerment project, at Mpophomeni near Caversham. Flynn, who taught the local women papermaking and helped them develop their existing embroidery and beading abilities, brought groups to The Caversham Press for more specialised courses in printmaking and bookbinding. This intersection of community-based projects and professional printmaking was expanded further in 1998 to include the participation of writers. Artist Hilary Graham, and writers Cathal Lagan and Brian Walter from the English Department of the University of Fort Hare produced prints, books and broadsheets, exploring both the esoteric nature of the recent history of the Eastern Cape 10 such as the massacre at Bisho 11 and the challenges of bridging the space between writers’ and artists’ intentions. The Caversham Centre for Artists and Writers grew out of this intersection.

Figure 6, Veerle Rooms, De Vaert (2002)

In 2002, Malcolm and Veerle Rooms of the Frans Masereel Centrum in Kasterlee, Belgium, began a series of workshops. One explored the form and materiality of The Intimate Book (Fig. 6) and in 2003, the expansive E-Pos Project (Fig. 7) included South African artists and writers in collaboration with their Belgium counterparts. Writer Vonani Bila was part of this project, and as a result of these experiences in 2005 he undertook another residency at Caversham where he completed the epic poem Lines for Lionel Davis (Fig. 8). Alongside these creative residencies, Malcolm, Gabisile Nkosi, Witty Nonhlanla Nyide, Jabulisele Mtheku and others ran leadership programmes at the Centre. In 2007 Lungile Khumalo, Hlengiwe Mahlangu, Phumelele Mkhwanazi, and Nomathemba Ndlovu produced A Journey of Inspiration (Fig. 9) in which notions of inspiration, vision, and resources inside of oneself were realised in book form through self-reflexive and metaphor-rich poems and visual images. By 2010 the CreACTive project had produced Young Catalysts in Action, through which Bongiwe Mkhize, Fanele Cebekhulu, Mthobisi Dubazane, Ntombifuthi Mabanga, Sibusiso Motau, Siyabonga Mafu and Zama Hlongwane, from Rorke’s Drift, Lidgetton, Matubathuba and Harding, all wrote poetic responses to their experiences of establishing their own CreACTive Centres and of identifying new young leaders who would continue the legacy. Malcolm states (January 2023) that it was through the tangible authority of their books that their experiences and the richness of the oral tradition was concretised.

Figure 7, Malcolm Christian and Veerle Rooms (project leaders), Garth Erasmus, Fikele Skosana, Malou Swinnen, Linda Vinck (artists), Vonani Bila, Mavis Smallberg, Suzanne Binnemans, Frans Boenders (poets and writers), Gabisile Nkosi , Ivan Durt, Hans van Dijck and Zhané Warren (Print assistants), E-POS “Persoonlijke Vocabulaire” / E-POS “Personal Vocabulary” (2003)

If The Cycad Collection had proven to be one of the most complex and difficult undertakings in book design and production, another would prove to be Songs from the Earth (2009-17) (Fig. 10) by Mxolisi Nyezwa, Vusi Zwane and Simphiwe Cebekhulu. Malcolm (January 2023) remembers struggling to integrate the diverse perceptions of the writer and artists as early as 2009. Mxolisi’s poems on the murder of Gabisile Nkosi, written while on residency at the Centre for Artists and Writers, took years to find their visual counterparts as prints functioning not as illustrations of the nine poems, but as their equivalences. By 2017, in time for the Booknesses exhibition held at the University of Johannesburg, the book was finally realised in both standard and deluxe editions, with the inclusion of Vusi and Simphiwe’s prints. The printing, binding and collation of this publication was to be one of the last undertaken by Malcolm.

Figure 8, Vonani Bila, Lines for Lionel Davis (2005)

The love of making things, and the sculptural and tactile associations of realising various textual and imagistic projects in the form of books, belies Malcolm’s somewhat self-effacing descriptions of these objects as ‘afterthoughts’. In our most recent conversation (January 2023) Malcolm described the bookworks using this term, contrasting the context in which they were made with the stand-alone prints which were the major focus of the Press. The books in this archive were often realised towards the end of a residency where the potential within what the artists and writers were doing was translated into a book, yet, as Malcolm muses, not taking cognizance of the fact ‘that books take ten times longer to put together’. Malcolm would often screenprint the covers and have the workshop participants sign them in acknowledgement that this was their work, with the bookbinding process taking place later while working quietly on his own.

Figure 9, Lungile B. Khumalo, Hlengiwe Mahlangu, Phumelele Mkhwanazi and Nomathemba Ndlovu, A Journey of Inspiration (2007)

What resonates with such importance to me during this conversation is the equivalence that Malcolm places upon all of the books made at Caversham. In his view William Kentridge’s Ubu, Niles, Brutus (2017) (Fig. 11) – the last book produced at Caversham – and Robert Hodgins’s Ubu, Limericks & Clerihews (1989) – one of the first to be produced by Caversham – exhibit exactly the same integrity with absolutely no difference in focus and production values to those of the modest productions of community members and school children. This is evident in Our Secret Bond (2007) (Fig. 12) by R. Parrish Watson and the children from Ulwazi CreACTive Centre, and in the musings and memories of Max Makisi Marhanele, a renowned Xitsonga poet, translator, and Headmaster from a Letaba school.

Working in collaboration with Gabisile Nkosi his words in Caversham as I See it (2007) (Fig. 13) are illustrated in her images.

Figure 10, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Vusi Zwane and Simphiwe Chebekhulu, Songs from the Earth (2009-17)

The 67 items making up The Book Arts Archive of The Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers prove to be an extremely important record of more than two decades of dedication to the artist’s book as a protean and compelling artistic and cultural document. Despite winning the 2018 National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) Awards in the Digital Humanities category for my web-based project documenting South African artists’ books, the judges commented on an omission, stating, ‘The shortcoming of this project is that it is not well represented and inclusive in terms of demographics – there is a shortage of black artists’ work, hence its social relevance can be seen to be for a particular section of the South African population.’

This perceived shortcoming identified a need to promote both the making of artists’ books and their scholarship to a much wider audience. And thus, the acquisition of the Book Arts Archive of The Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers by the Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts at the Wits Art Museum, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in January 2023 helps address this issue. The Masabelaneni exhibition promotes the rich possibilities of the intersection between creative writing, image making and bookmaking by hitherto little-known South African artists and writers and hopes to attract a new audience. In this way, the exhibition also addresses a shortcoming that is less an embodiment of the field’s own limited documentation and more a celebration of the versatility of an artist’s book as collaborative in nature for all artists, professional and informally trained.

Figure 11, William Kentridge, Ubu, Niles, Brutus (2017)

The Caversham archive is of unique cultural and artistic heritage. It is not only worthy of entering an important collection and being kept together as a single entity, but it is historically vital for the expanded record of South African visual culture. The archive’s publications, in small or limited editions, convey Malcolm’s vision of generative collaboration in the remote and contemplative rural setting of The Caversham Press studio with its views of the Lions River and beyond. These publications are a remarkable commitment to giving voice consistently to local South Africans as well as making the fine craftsmanship of printing, binding, and production visible. Each publication is testament to a unique conjoining of text and image that is not often found in local book arts production. More broadly, the archive provides a clear snapshot of The Caversham Press, Trust, and Centre’s activities between 1993 and 2017, and constitutes a rare instance of collaborative printmaking, writing and bookbinding over a sustained period of time. This too is unique in the history of South African book arts. Other presses, such as The Artists Press in White River, have produced artists’ books of value, but nothing like this archive exists anywhere else in the country.

Figure 12, R. Parrish Watson and the children from Ulwazi CreACTive Centre, Our Secret Bond (2007)

The exhibition, Masabelaneni: The Book Arts Archive of The Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers, speaks not only to Malcolm’s spirit of sharing, but honours his vision and dedication to collaborative book arts projects in South Africa. The exhibition’s items are curated in loose thematic groupings. The West cabinets are devoted to the production of The Cycad Collection: Volume 1 Natal Province (1993-98), the North cabinets contain a single portfolio of work, the E-Pos Project (2003) with Veerle Rooms, from Belgium. The East cabinets continue the relationship with Rooms through the Intimate Book (2002) project and contain the majority of the archive in which the voices of diverse writers and poets from many countries are placed in dialogue.

The South cabinets isolate the work of individual artist projects. Together, the books that make up Masabelaneni: The Book Arts Archive of The Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers demonstrate the wealth of voices making up over twenty years of collaborative engagement at the nexus of printmaking, writing and bookmaking.

Figure 13, Max Makisi Marhanele (text) and Gabisile Nkosi (image), Caversham as I See it (2007)

Reflecting upon Caversham’s difference from other printmaking facilities in South Africa, Malcolm states that its uniqueness is in its name. Caversham became a retreat in which ideas and stories were shared around the presses during the day, on the verandah during rest periods and at the family dining room table in the evenings. Here, Malcolm, Ros and the artists and writers would meet to eat, relax, and share their thoughts and experiences from the day, and in this way, they embodied the concept of Masabelaneni – let us share.


Arnold, Marion (2011). Sawubona Caversham – Home of People and Prints in South Africa. Artists, Prints, Community: Twenty-Five Years at the Caversham Press. Boston (MA): Boston University College of Fine Arts, School of Visual Arts.

Christian, Malcolm (2023). Personal Interview with the author. Caversham. 5 January. Transcript archived.

Conidaris, Amanda (2002). Contemporary South African Printmaking: A Study of the Artform in Relation to Socio-Economic Conditions, with Special Reference to The Caversham Press. Unpublished Masters dissertation. Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch.

Fossey, Natalie (2012). Sequential Art and Narrative in the prints of Hogarth in Johannesburg (1987) by Robert Hodgins, Deborah Bell and William Kentridge. Unpublished MAFA dissertation. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Founder of Caversham Press Receives Honorary Doctorate. University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. 03 April 2014. Available: (accessed 21 April 2023).

Hobbs, Philippa and Rankin, Elizabeth (1997). Printmaking in a Transforming South Africa. Cape Town: David Philip Publishers.


  1. Malcolm maintains that his establishment of The Caversham Press stemmed from his antipathy towards the fragmented nature of institutional teaching. This led to his desire to be able to determine his own way of working and interacting with artists on an individual basis, using traditional printmaking methods of image creation (Malcolm Christian in conversation with Mandy Conidaris 2002:89).
  2. The Johannesburg Centenary Print Portfolio was published by The Brenthurst Press for Friends of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. It contained screenprints and one collage by Giuseppe Cattaneo, Robert Hodgins, Ezrom Legae, Karel Nel and Malcolm Payne with text by Christopher Till. All prints signed, dated ‘86 and numbered in an edition of 100 at The Caversham Press
  3. Amongst the print studios established in the wake of the opening of The Caversham Press are the Hard Ground Printmakers Workshop, opened in 1989 by Jonathan Comerford in Cape Town to create an open-access facility to promote Fine Art printmaking and diversity in the community; the Axeage Private Press, founded by Pippa Skotnes and Malcolm Payne also opened in Cape Town in 1989; The Artists Press, was initially started in 1991 in Newtown, Johannesburg by Mark Attwood in the same year that Kim Berman and Nhlanhla Xaba established Artist Proof Studio (APS), also in Newtown, Johannesburg as a community printmaking centre that reflected the spirit of democracy and the ideals expressed in the new South African constitution. Presses that predate Caversham include Egon Guenther’s private facility in Johannesburg. Established in the early 1970s, and assisted by Wendy Vincent, Guenther produced illustrated books of high quality including a deluxe edition of Olive Schreiner’s The Hunter (1979) and Herman Charles Bosman’s Die Rooinek (1981). In the early 1980s Bruce Attwood’s Broederstroom Press, although a predominantly commercial venture, was printing for Judith Mason and Norman Catherine. For an exhaustive review of the history of South African printmaking facilities, educational, community and private, see Philippa Hobbs and Elizabeth Rankin, Printmaking in a Transforming South Africa. David Philips Publishers, 1997, pp 8-30.
  4. Natalie Fossey (2012:1) states that the original exhibition Hogarth in Johannesburg was held at the Cassirer Gallery in Johannesburg in 1988. Each of the participating artists worked with one series created by the 18th century English printmaker William Hogarth: Robert Hodgins referenced A Rake’s Progress (1735) with a series of seven etchings, Deborah Bell produced seven etchings based on Marriage á la Mode (1745) and William Kentridge produced 8 etchings based on Industry and Idleness (1747).
  5. Malcolm and Gabisile Nkosi set up an art centre at Jabula Combined School in KZN as the first CreACTive Centre, in 2002. This project ran until 2014 when the classroom space was reallocated to other school needs. As their first community-based project, it gave rise to five other projects throughout KwaZulu Natal.
  6. It was here that master binder Johan Maree from UCT, introduced Malcolm to Jack Ginsberg for the first time.
  7. This non-profit trust gave local, historically disadvantaged artists the experience of printmaking in a structured and professional way, while at the same time interacting with more established artists (Conidaris 2002:28).
  8. Over the next seven years, iterations of The Hourglass Project produced Baggage, (2001) with 40 prints from 17 artists; Journey (2003) with 25 prints and six artists’ books from 16 artists; Personal Vocabulary (2005) with 18 prints and six artists’ books from 16 artists; and Inspiration (2007) with 24 prints and six artists’ books from 12 artists.
  9. During his National Diploma in Fine Arts at the Natal College for Advanced Technical Education (1972-74), Malcolm majored in Sculpture.
  10. Graham was a founder member of an Eastern Cape group which operated ‘in the GAP’ (an acronym for Grahamstown, Alice, and Port Elizabeth) (Hobbs & Rankin 1997:97).
  11. The Bisho Massacre occurred on 7 September 1992 in Bisho, in the then nominally independent homeland of Ciskei which is now part of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. Twenty-eight African National Congress supporters and one soldier were shot dead by the Ciskei Defence Force during a protest march when they attempted to enter Bisho to demand the reincorporation of Ciskei into South Africa during the final years of apartheid.

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