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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MAPULA EMBROIDERIES (article first published : 2006-12-4)

One of the most important community art projects in South Africa is the Mapula Embroidery Project in the Winterveld. In addition to generating an income for economically disadvantaged women, Mapula embroideries couple high levels of technical and visual artistry with topics that speak eloquently of public histories as well as women’s personal experiences.

Dazzling in colour and inventive in design, the embroideries also engage compellingly with social and political issues that have shaped the lives of their makers.

In the publication, Brenda Schmahmann discusses the complex circumstances that resulted in the founding of Mapula in 1991, when the Winterveld was part of the former ‘homeland’ of Bophuthatswana. She examines the backgrounds of project members, revealing how women’s experiences of disempowerment have been bound up with the politics of race and gender. She explores the ways in which the Mapula Embroidery Project is managed and organised, identifying the challenges that confront those engaged in development work.

Brenda Schmahmann also offers a detailed analysis of a range of embroideries, placing particular emphasis on the women’s choice and treatment of subject matter and suggesting that topics chosen by the embroiderers frequently address political and economic disempowerment. As her study indicates, Mapula embroideries are remarkable works of art that not only attest to the creativity of South African women but also provide invaluable insights about the anxieties and aspirations of females in a transforming society.

Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld is the outcome of research that the author has undertaken over a six-year period. The most comprehensive study of Mapula that has been published to date, it is also the first book with an exclusive focus on a community embroidery project in South Africa. Containing an informative text, Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld is a full-colour publication with over 90 high-quality illustrations that reveal the exquisiteness of Mapula embroideries and show the context in which they are made.

The book is essential reading for those interested in South African art and embroidery. It will also be of particular interest to readers with an interest in gender and women’s studies, development initiatives and the history of people in areas of South Africa that were formerly designated as ‘homelands’.

Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld is published in soft cover David Krut Publishing - ISBN: 978-0-9584975-1-0 - and retails at R250.

Watch these pages for a review of the book.




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