Book based on art project launched

Noluntu Mavela stands alongside the pieces she she helped to create, which are on display at the UCT Irma Stern museum.

The launch of a book and exhibition about the Keiskamma Art Project took place at the UCT Irma Stern Museum last week.

The book, The Keiskamma Art Project, Restoring Hope and Livelihoods, was written by Professor Brenda Schmahmann, South African Research Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture at the University of Johannesburg.

The Keiskamma project is based in Hamburg in the Eastern Cape and was started by Dr Carol Hofmeyr in 2000 to bring women together and improve their self esteem through art creation. Today it has almost 100 women trained in embroidery.

The exhibition consists of a mixture of fabric and embroidered art which is influenced by the landscape, fauna and animals which surround the organisation which is situated in the former Ciskei at the mouth of the Keiskamma river.

“We make work that tells the story of our area and the community that lives there. The village of Hamburg is in an extremely beautiful location with many species of birds, fish and plants.

“These particular art works are about the plants and flowers of our area and sometimes of the rest of South Africa. The book (by Professor Schmahmann) is a record of all our major works and why they were made,” said Dr Hofmeyr.

“The actual act of sewing and making something out of tiny stitches piece by piece is a very good metaphor for what the women’s work is in the community. The women take direct responsibility for their children, many of them are responsible for feeding their family and keeping the family together.

“Before the project started the main income for women was poaching abalone off the coast. Their story needed to be told and we had enough embroiders to tell it in a big way,” said Dr Hofmeyr.

The Keiskamma Tapestry is made in collaboration with designers and women from the nearby villages. There are eight artists from Hamburg and three of the designers have postgraduate degrees in fine arts.

Noluntu Mavela is one of the embroidery artists who have work on display. She said one artwork took her two weeks to create, working from 9am to 4pm.

“We make the felt ourselves by buying sheep’s wool from PE then we dye it into three different colours, we rub it with dishwasher using our hands and then we bang it on the floor to make it solid,” said Ms Mavela.

Alongside the organisation in the Eastern Cape a health programmewas also started as the Aids epidemic started to affect few of the women in the project. The health programme is still running today and its community health workers are able to visit homes in the Peddie district that are inaccessible and far from town.

“The money we generate goes back into the project to keep the women employed so that they can have money for school fees to feed their families.

“We also have a music programme where school children in the area learn to play recorder and then progress onto the instruments and now we almost have an orchestra,” said Dr Hofmeyr.

The exhibition will run until Saturday February 25.

Call Mary van Blommestein on 021 685 5686 for details.