Billie Zangewa

Koyo Kouoh
  • Billie Zangewa, Midnight Aura, 2012.
  • Billie Zangewa, Domestic Scene, 2016; Back to Black, 2015.
  • Billie Zangewa, The Rebirth of the Black Venus, 2010; Every Woman, 2016.
  • Billie Zangewa, Morning Glory, 2017.

Embroidery of Constructing Collective Identity

Billie Zangewa, born in Malawi, studied graphics and printmaking at Rhodes University. The textured printing paper awakened her interest in the materiality of surfaces, and when she moved to Johannesburg she found her muse: the city. She uses self-referentiality as a conceptual framework within which to epitomize the contemporary African woman and contribute to her redefinition in societies in which patriarchy and reactionary views continue to work against the liberation of women. Although her tapestries are autobiographical, she finds recourse in the shaping of a collective identity, as in Midnight Aura and Angelina Rising — titles that reference the names given to wax prints by the Dutch fabric company Vlisco. The African woman depicted in Zangewa’s tapestries, who has “experienced modernity” in the words of Yinka Shonibare MBE, has had to reclaim herself: passive and subjected to the desires of men, she has become the agent of seduction performed as a conscious and voluntary act.

The Rebirth of the Black Venus, for example, depicts a naked and graceful black woman descending on an imaginary contemporary metropolis. Her body is draped with a sash on which is written, “Surrender whole-heartedly to your complexity.” The woman’s poise, grace, and sexual demeanour suggest a gesture of love: she is offering herself to the promises of the city. Zangewa does not consider herself a political artist, or a feminist artist for that matter. Nevertheless, it is important for her to weave stories from her female perspective. Her choice of embroidery as a mode of expression at a time when this (typically female) practice has fallen out of fashion attests to a certain radicality in her work and to her awareness of the creative power of women. Because she has taken a traditionally female pastime and made it into a source of creative self-expression, Zangewa’s brand of feminism can be seen as an act of love for women.

Captions
Image 1: Billie Zangewa, Midnight Aura, 2012. Photo: © Billie Zangewa, courtesy of AFRONOVA GALLERY, Johannesburg
Images 2 and 3: Billie Zangewa, Domestic Scene, 2016; Back to Black, 2015. Photos: © Billie Zangewa, courtesy of AFRONOVA GALLERY, Johannesburg
Images 4 et 5: Billie Zangewa, The Rebirth of the Black Venus, 2010; Every Woman, 2016. Photos: © Billie Zangewa, courtesy of AFRONOVA GALLERY, Johannesburg
Image 6: Billie Zangewa, Morning Glory, 2017. Photo: © Billie Zangewa, courtesy of AFRONOVA GALLERY, Johannesburg

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