There’s a quiet power to featured artist Billie Zangewa, writes Piet Smedy
How do you perceive the female body, a critical focus of your narrative, as emblematic? The female body represents the historical narrative of women, the struggles and strengths of the sex, as well as its perseverance and its potency and I understand first hand the complexities of it; it is the only story I know how to tell. It is my story.
Where does this place you in the broader, post-metoo conversation?
As a child, I was quickly made aware of what it meant to be a girl in a predominantly patriarchal society and I did not like it. My response was to protect myself in a potentially hostile environment, eventually finding my liberation in self-expression. I have gone through stages where I wanted to show my strength and retaliate but, now, I’m at a place where I want to humanise women by showing one – myself – going about her daily life.
The female body, then, is a dynamic, ever-shifting concept, especially in relation to patriarchy. Is your art – and your narrative – changing with it?
I have come to a place where I no longer make grandiose statements about female power in reaction to patriarchy.
I’m more interested in sharing intimate moments as a way to connect and share. I’m saying, ‘Hey, this is what happens in this female artist’s daily life and this is what she’s really feeling when not making images of goddesses’.
You’ve said previously that you are concerned with a personal and universal female experience. Do you, then, believe in a shared female identity?
Yes, I do. I’m not saying that we are carbon copies of each other, but we have relatable experiences. Having someone put it out there, albeit in narrative form, eliminates feelings of alienation.
The patriarchy prefers women to be mysterious – silenced – and unable to find that connection through sharing.
‘In a way, it was a form of rebellion to express my sex so openly, without shame or apology’
At the risk of sounding reductive, gender norms dictate that stitching is the realm of the female. Was this something that you were actively cognisant of when you approached this medium?
Absolutely. Sewing is a traditionally female pastime that I have enjoyed since I was a young girl. At art school we were told not to show our ‘femaleness’ in our work, as if there was some kind of shame in being a woman and that a female artist had to be genderless in order to be taken seriously. So, in a way, it was a form of rebellion to express my sex so openly, without shame or apology. There is a quiet power in sewing. It’s like meditation, and something magical and visceral happens when you are focused on this repetitive task. It is a crucial part of my creativity because this is where I find focus – and total surrender. FNB Joburg Art Fair is on from 6 to 9 September at the Sandton Convention Centre fnbjoburgartfair.co.za; blankprojects.com
clockwise, from left artist billie Zangewa at an exhibition of her work; STOLEN MOMENTS; RETURN TO PARADISE II; VISION OF LOVE
clockwise, from top left TEMPORARY REPRIEVE; DATE NIGHT; GREAT EXPECTATIONS; billie Zangewa