Women’s Work: Crafting stories, subverting narratives


The exhibition Women’s Work: Crafting stories, subverting narratives, spanning 300 years, is on at the Iziko South African National Gallery.

Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town

It showcases the innovation demonstrated by a diverse group of contemporary South African artists and artisans, who utilize and transform techniques such as knitting, crocheting, embroidery, quilting and beadwork to create works that blur the boundaries between art and craft.

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This exhibition includes historical works from Iziko’s Social History Collection and Grooteschuur Estate. The works explore intimate and personal narratives: the effects of colonial histories and trauma on the body; issues of identity and its relation to land; religion and sexuality, as well as gendered power relations.

Women’s Work aims to trace the development of ideas, themes and techniques explored by both male and female artists through contrasting past and present, and pushing and interrogating the boundaries of their chosen techniques. Perceptions of these practices are often securely gendered as women’s work. Artists showcased in the exhibition ask penetrating questions of the grand art historical narratives. Their work celebrates the often undervalued creativity of the artisan.

Iziko Museums of South AfricaThis ambitious group exhibition showcases rarely seen treasures spanning 300 years of history in conversation with contemporary works of art. Some of the exhibition highlights include: the embroidered Keiskamma Tapestry. On loan from the Parliament of South Africa, this remarkable artwork tells the story of the country’s turbulent history from the perspective of the women who created it.

A 17th century Flemish tapestry entitled Africa, on loan from the Grooteschuur estate, is a fascinating historical document. The tapestry illustrates an imagined place in which the landscape is occupied with recognizable indigenous forms. This interpretation is based on biblical and legendary images and provides commentary on the European view of Africa at the time.

The Atrium of the Iziko South African National Gallery has been transformed into a space reminiscent of dreams. This site-specific mixed media installation, by artist Lisa Grobler titled: No More Worlds To Conquer is constructed from a combination of crocheting/knotting/plaiting. This work, a contour drawing of things that cannot be seen, was funded through the Nando’s Arts Trust.

Audiences are invited to engage with the works of 23 artists and 5 women’s cooperatives, which are showcased side by side. Richly layered textures, multimedia installations, detailed intricacies of lace and tapestry create a larger-than-life visual feast designed to delight the senses.

The exhibition draws on five major institutional collections including: Iziko Museums of South Africa’s Art and Social History Collections; the Art Collection of Parliament of the Republic of South Africa; Grooteschuur Estate Collection; Spier Collection; as well as numerous contributions from private collectors.

Women’s Work: Crafting stories, subverting narratives, an exhibition co-curated by Ernestine White and Olga Speakes will run at the Iziko South African National Gallery until 30 April 2017.

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