Self in a patch­work of silk

Through her self­por­traits Bil­lie Zangewa stitches to­gether the soft fab­ric to ex­plore and chal­lenge stereo­types of gen­der and iden­tity

Mail & Guardian - - Art - Nk­gopoleng Moloi

Us­ing the tra­di­tional tech­niques of ta­pes­try, Bil­lie Zangewa metic­u­lously weaves silk into col­lages. Born in Malawi to a Malaw­ian fa­ther and a South African mother, the vis­ual artist works pri­mar­ily with raw silk of­f­cuts. Her ta­pes­tries, de­pict­ing care­fully con­structed ev­ery­day set­tings, al­low us to think more deeply about iden­tity, gen­der and the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal land­scape. She presents a se­ries of sit­u­a­tions and propo­si­tions in which the do­mes­tic be­comes po­lit­i­cal.

Zangewa has ex­hib­ited ex­ten­sively both lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, in­clud­ing with the Nor­val Foun­da­tion (Pulling Threads, 2017), MASS MoCA (The Half-life of Love, 2015), the Stu­dio Mu­seum in Har­lem (A Con­stel­la­tion, 2015). Her work is in sev­eral out­stand­ing pri­vate and pub­lic col­lec­tions, in­clud­ing the Tate Mod­ern, the St­edelijk Mu­seum and the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Mu­seum of African Art.

She is one of many pi­o­neer­ing artists reimag­in­ing what is con­sid­ered tex­tile art.

Push­ing the boundaries of silk ta­pes­try, Zangewa also en­ters a league of artists who use one par­tic­u­lar medium in sur­pris­ing and in­no­va­tive ways. This grow­ing move­ment in­cludes Yinka Shoni­bare with his Dutch wax-print sculp­tures, Faith Ring­gold’s paint­ings on cloth, Ju­dith Scott’s fi­bre sculp­tures, Ghada Amer’s evoca­tive em­broi­dery and El Anat­sui with his fab­ric-like col­lages made from bot­tle-tops. With the use of tex­tiles and found ma­te­ri­als, these artists are con­tin­u­ally re-ex­am­in­ing the his­toric and the tra­di­tional, while sum­mon­ing the fu­tur­is­tic.

Dis­cussing their art­work, Wrapped Re­ich­stag, en­vi­ron­men­tal artists Christo and Jeanne Claude once stated that: “Through­out the his­tory of art, the use of fab­ric has been a fas­ci­na­tion for artists. Fab­ric, like cloth­ing or skin, is frag­ile; it trans­lates the unique qual­ity of im­per­ma­nence.”

Zangewa’s work con­veys this sense of fragility, in how it con­flates the del­i­cate­ness of silk with the fragility of mem­ory. Her work is mul­ti­lay­ered, both in terms of process and sub­ject mat­ter. Each art­work goes through a lengthy process of line draw­ing, cut­ting and pin­ning be­fore the hand­stitch­ing be­gins. By choos­ing fab­ric, Zangewa al­lows us to con­front, ex­am­ine and dis­man­tle ideas of hand­stitch­ing as a sym­bol of do­mes­tic­ity rel­e­gated to women; how we think of stitch­ing not as hard labour or high art but rather as craft and pas­time.

The flatness of Zangewa’s ta­pes­tries con­ceals where the warps and wefts be­gin and end — these soft sculp­tures are per­sonal and re­veal­ing; doc­u­ment­ing a per­sonal his­tory while si­mul­ta­ne­ously chal­leng­ing stereo­typ­i­cal de­pic­tions of black women. The de­pic­tions shift flu­idly be­tween spaces and across time — city and coun­try, the ro­man­tic and the prac­ti­cal — in­vok­ing a sense of free move­ment through the world.

The rich­ness of the ta­pes­tries is brought forth by the use of ra­di­ant colours and the silk’s re­flec­tive, lu­mi­nous na­ture. Her use of the do­mes­tic in­te­rior as a site for play and hy­brid­ity marks a re­ac­tion to the sim­ple pas­sage of time.

Through Zangewa’s work, we get a glimpse into pri­vate and in­ti­mate spaces. She breaks mul­ti­ple walls and in­ter­ro­gates mul­ti­ples sites of mean­ing: What can be de­picted, by whom, to ful­fil which gaze?

For ex­am­ple, in Mid­night Aura (2012), we see a woman sleep­ing peace­fully. In Mother and Child, (2015), a woman and her son sit at the kitchen ta­ble, per­haps re­flect­ing Zangewa’s re­la­tion­ship with her child. In Morn­ing Glory (2017), we’re in­tro­duced to Zangewa in her bed­room, a towel on her head. Other ta­pes­tries show women sit­ting in a field, pick­ing flow­ers, read­ing, work­ing, mak­ing love — liv­ing. These self­por­traits em­brace the mun­dane with en­ergy and grace.

Her work also chal­lenges tra­di­tional ideals of com­ple­tion. The artist draws dif­fer­ent boundaries around her art and her silk cre­ations are not lim­ited by the con­ven­tional squares and rec­tan­gles that of­ten house com­po­si­tion. Zangewa’s ta­pes­tries end where they will — ex­pand­ing and con­tract­ing spa­tial boundaries.

The works’ beau­ti­fully ob­served mo­ments al­low us to sink into fa­mil­iar places. Her soft sculp­tures of­fer us an odyssey through the prism of per­sonal nar­ra­tive us­ing a tac­tile and sen­sory ap­proach. The free­dom she claims for her­self acts as a lib­er­at­ing force for ideas that re­mind us to take up joy in our own nar­ra­tives, as we move through our own in­te­rior worlds, both pri­vate and shared.

Zangewa is to present new works at the 2018 FNB Joburg Art Fair in Septem­ber, which this year will fea­ture four cat­e­gories — Con­tem­po­rary Gal­leries, Solo Pre­sen­ta­tions, Lim­ited Edi­tions and Art Plat­forms. As this year’s fea­tured artist, Zangewa steps onto a plat­form that has been oc­cu­pied by artists such as is in the com­pany of artists such as Robin Rhode (2017) and Wangechi Mutu (2016).

Pho­tos: Jurie Pot­gi­eter & Oupa Nkosi

Stolen Mo­ments

Tem­po­rary Re­prieve

Ma Vie En Rose

Mun­dane made mag­i­cal: Bil­lie Zangewa’s tex­tile ta­pes­tries, such as Re­turn to Par­adise II (above) de­pict ev­ery­day do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tions doc­u­ment­ing her per­sonal his­tory and chal­leng­ing stereo­types, par­tic­u­larly those con­cern­ing black women.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.