Body Politic

There’s a quiet power to fea­tured artist Bil­lie Zangewa, writes Piet Sm­edy

Condé Nast House & Garden - - ZEITGEIST -

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

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