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KEISKAMMA TAPESTRY (article first published : 2004-07-10)

In celebration of the 10 years of democracy the Keiskamma Art Project has made a monumental work in The Keiskamma Tapestry.

This magnificent 120-metre long embroidery work depicts the story of the Eastern Cape with all the great battles including the defeat of the Xhosa people following cattle-killing prophecies in 1856/57. The story depicts deception, imprisonment, starvation and cultural loss. The conclusion of the work will show a new future in the restoration of land and freedom of people in 1994 and the presidency of Nelson Mandela.

The Keiskamma Tapestry is loosely based on the Bayeux tapestry, the world famous artwork made shortly after the Norman Conquest of England in the eleventh century. The Bayeux tapestry depicts in detail the story of William of Normandy’s conquest of Harold of Wessex. The tapestry shows events leading up to the battle. A milestone in Western art, it is embroidered wool on linen, in two types of stitch.

In contrast, the Keiskamma Tapestry’s narrative is embroidered on a terracotta hessian using many different stitches which means that the work is colourful and very vibrant.

The artists of the Keiskamma Tapestry have depicted their version of the history of the Eastern Cape with the help of experienced historians and artists. With funding from The National Department of Arts and Culture and private donors, they believe they have lifted the story out of the context of blame and recrimination to one of pride and acceptance. The artwork is thus both a story of a people’s defeat as well as its subsequent victory and restoration with the emergence of people like Nelson Mandela.

Founded in November 2001, the Keiskamma art project is based in the small town of Hamburg on the Eastern Cape coast. It was started to address the lack of employment and to bring art and hope to the women and men of the region. The project has grown to involve over 100 women and a few men. Regular workshops teach new skills and the standard of embroidery is very high. The award-winning project has been selected for many competitions and exhibitions such as the Brett Kebble art Awards and the FNB Craft Vita Awards.

The theme of the work is cattle as cattle are central to rural Xhosa life and history repesenting wealth and pride to the Xhosa family.

The Keiskamma Tapestry is on exhibition in the Thomas Pringle Hall at the Monument in Grahamstown for the duration of the National Arts Festival.

For more information visit www.keiskamma.org




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