Meticulously researched, author Brenda Schmahmann engages the reader as the history and motivation behind this extraordinary project is revealed.The Keiskamma Art Project – Restoring Hope and Livelihoods
Published by Print Matters Heritage
The Keiskamma Art Project, begun by Carol Hofmeyr in 2000, provides opportunities to over a hundred people in the tiny Eastern Cape settlement of Hamburg, South Africa, to support themselves and their families. Members of this remarkable project are best known for the compelling and exquisite large-scale artworks they make collaboratively which include embroidery and needlework. Several have been exhibited internationally and a number are in important collections – amongst them the Keiskamma Tapestry which is on permanent loan to Parliament.
Author Brenda Schmahmann conducted extensive and meticulous research and fieldwork to produce a book that reveals the history as well as the motivations and ideas that underpin the making of its works. Magnificently and comprehensively illustrated, this volume is the first to be devoted to the Keiskamma Art Project and is destined to be the authoritative book on this remarkable project.
Many of the Keiskamma Art Project’s large-scale works rework well-known paintings and other art from the West, such as the Bayeux Tapestry, Picasso’s Guernica and the Ghent Altarpiece. But they do so in such a way that they highlight issues of concern to people in South Africa. Engaging with the histories of Xhosa speakers and the long-term effects of colonisation, the works are also concerned with twenty-first century challenges such as the impact of HIV/AIDS or the threats posed to the natural environment and flora and fauna within it.
Cattle are a favourite motif of the project. Many make reference to the famous prophecy of Nongqawuse who, some 150 years ago, found herself summoned by two ‘strangers’ who told her that her community should kill their cattle and refrain from cultivating crops in preparation for a new world. While the cattle killings which resulted from the influence of this prophesy heralded loss and starvation for Xhosa-speaking people, the embroideries of cattle by the Keiskamma Art Project would come to signify a new source of wealth creation and the sustaining of life in an impoverished community.
Carol Hofmeyr emphasizes how collective work can enable significant improvements in people’s lives: ‘Over the 16 years we have worked together, many volunteers have taught and shared skills and we have built a close and caring community of embroiderers, designers, artists and friends – a collaboration that has become global. A group of over 100 women and a few men who are uniquely skilled in making art using textiles and especially embroidery shows that when people work together a miracle of transformation can occur.’
Valuable not only to art historians, this sumptuous book will inspire anyone with an interest in the visual arts or rural development in Africa.