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MATERIAL MATTERS (article first published : 2000-09-4)

The Durban Art Gallery is currently hosting Material Matters, a show of one of the most dynamic art forms from contemporary South Africa - needlework. It focuses particular attention on works by a group of women in the rural community of Weya in Zimbabwe, and also provides fascinating examples of works from contemporary collectives in South Africa, such as Mapula and Simunye.

Needlework has provided poverty-stricken women with not only an income, but also a 'voice': females, who would normally keep silent, have found in needlwork a means of expressing their aspirations and anxieties. The appliquéd wall hangings made by the women of Weya include stories that focus on customs and norms in Shona communities, and speak of the ways in which these affect women's lives. Yet, far from being solemn, the stories are represented with humour and, in many instances, dramatic irony. Likewise, South African works in fabric demonstrate not only the technical proficiency of the women who make them, but also their imaginative and creative capacities.

This is the first exhibition to offer a retrospective examination of Weya appliqués, and many of the works it includes are drawn from private collections and have never previously been exhibited. It includes extensive information about the histories of needlework groups and the subject matter of individual works, not only in the form of written commentaries but also photographs and video footage. Accompanied by a catalogue with contributions by both experienced researchers and people with an immediate involvement in needlework projects, the exhibition provides important new insights about the creativity of black women in Southern Africa.

The exhibition runs until September 15.




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