Author: Lisa Powell
Written in response to ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ (1957) and ‘Sun Shining through the Hills’ (early 1980’s)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum
As a commuter in the Rhondda Valleys for the past eight years and as an outsider I have always been fascinated by the rows of ribbons of terraced houses that shape the landscape and bring character to the area which is distinctive. Therefore, I have only ever experienced ‘the green Rhondda’ (post-coal era) where it is green again and even consists most recently of wind farms added to the landscape of upper Rhondda in particular. My two favourite paintings by Zobole look at the 1950s era showing the community life that once existed in a street scene ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ (1957) and one from the 1980s era ‘Sun Shining through the Hills’ which looks at the sunny landscape on the one side and the darker landscape the other side of the painting. These combined help me understand how since industry has gone, the area has changed in appearance as well as community aspects. The past has a dark side where the landscape was dirty and wildlife destroyed but on the other hand work was plentiful. Today it may be greener but deprivation has led to some parts of Rhondda looking run down with shops closed and no future for young people. I therefore see Rhondda today as a mixture of both positive and negative aspects, which now characterise and have changed Rhondda both physically as well as socially. Today Rhondda has a population of predominantly commuters and sadly some young people have left to look for work elsewhere. Pubs, churches, high streets are closing and also schools even. Depopulation is the main cause of this as well as other factors. Mountain fires remind many people today of black mountains, similar to when the area was being mined which for some take people back to the ‘old’ Rhondda they once knew. Mountains scarred by the blackness, like a time machine taking us back to the past.