Art in focus – May 2023
Keiskamma Art Project, 2010
A young doctor arrives in an Eastern Cape village in South Africa. She is appalled at the extreme poverty and deprivation all around her. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is raging, affecting both men and women, and there is very limited medical provision. Many are dying. What does doctor and fine artist Dr Carol Hofmeyr do? She encourages a small group of women to sew. She invites artists she knows to come and teach collage and embroidery. She sees it as offering a way to make a living, but also of having a voice against injustice and neglect. Together, the first group of women formed the Keiskamma Art Project.
The group chose to base their designs on well-known artworks from the western canon. This, in their terms, validated their own stories to the world – stories of people who would otherwise not be heard. They chose works like the Isenheim Altarpiece, and this one inspired by Picasso’s famous anti-war painting, Guernica (inset). For the work, the women repurposed the blankets and clothes of those who had died, creating an expression of outrage as well as commemoration.
The Keiskamma artists reinterpreted Picasso’s work using images from their own world. The central horse is replaced by a dying cow, a more traditional Xhosa symbol. The many human faces which form the background were produced by local women and children as they studied Picasso’s weeping women. Beneath the bull on the left is an African mother with her child. The art collective is pictured on the righthand side and, above, Dr Hofmeyr is surrounded by suffering people. Tabs commemorating individuals who have died hang from the bottom of the piece.
Since the group was formed, these remarkable works have been shown across the world. The voices of the artists and their community have indeed been heard. What a remarkable outcome from a sewing circle!
Art in focus is curated by Meryl Doney