‘Picasso’ tapestry in EL
Internationally acclaimed work depicts bombing of Spanish village
The internationally acclaimed Keiskamma Guernica will be displayed in East London for the first time during the 2019 Umtiza Arts Festival.
Made in 2010 for the National Arts Festival, the artwork is a large-scale tapestry designed by Kieskamma art project board member, artist and medical doctor, Carol Hofmeyr.
It was created with the help of over 16 artists, felters and embroiderers affiliated to the project.
At 3.5m tall and 7.8m wide, the Keiskamma Guernica is a South African recreation of Picasso’s 1937 painting of the same name.
Picasso’s famous work depicts the bombing of a small village in Spain and has been used as a template for the tapestry, which serves as a protest against the management of HIV/Aids patients in South African government hospitals.
The Keiskamma art project runs under the Keiskamma Trust and involves over 100 artists from the fragmented former Ciskei homeland. The trust also runs a health project and treatment centre in the area.
Hofmeyr described the work as a “lament for the dead, for the injustices of our health system and the staggering grief experienced in Eastern Cape villages”.
She said: “Things have improved and changed a bit now, but for a long time there was a lack of care, assistance and medical attention given to HIV/Aids patients and poverty made it impossible for many to access treatment.”
The tapestry’s background is grey and brown in colour and is made from the blankets of patients who stayed at the Keiskamma trust’s treatment centre, traditional Xhosa skirts and hand-made felt.
Hofmeyr said that the names of all the patients who died at the centre are also embroidered onto the artwork.
While Picasso’s work depicts an instant horror, Hofmeyr said the Keiskamma Guernica tells the story of individual grief and struggle while also showcasing the resilience, courage and strength of a community.
Hofmeyr said the work depicted “a slow eating away of the whole fabric of a community who are digging countless graves and ceaselessly mourning people who have died of Aids”.
The tapestry is permanently housed at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum, but has been displayed internationally, forming part of the 2012 Venice Biennale in Italy.
“It’s travelled internationally, but it’s not very well-known in South Africa because it hasn’t travelled around the country a lot. It was bought for the NMU Museum straight after the National Arts Festival. It’s amazing to see it travel to another part of the Eastern Cape and get more local exposure,” said
Ann Bryant Art Gallery curator, Leon du Preez said that the tapestry would be a treat for East Londoners. “It’s a great privilege to be able to display the Tapestry during the Umtiza Arts Festival. It’s an amazing piece and really shows off what the Keiskamma artists can achieve,” said Du Preez.
To view the Keiskamma Guernica, visit the EL Museum’s Courtenay Latimer Hall during the Umtiza Arts Festival at the weekend. The artwork will be on display until Sunday.