Gather by SMAC Gallery
Expanding on our recent exhibition reviewing clay and ceramics as contemporary art practice, SMAC is pleased to present Gather, a group exhibition that explores the developing status of tapestry and textiles. Particularly focussing on textile-work from Southern Africa (including artists from South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe), the exhibition also includes Ghanaian artist, Ibrahim Mahama. The exhibition includes a collection of recent and older work by represented and non-represented artists.
The title of the exhibition, Gather, refers to the fold formed when cloth is pulled together, and in turn, the politicised nature of converging in the current age of distance. Exploring the common thread that underpins the prominent use of fabric in this context, we find artists transforming the medium into a communication tool; pinning ideas around domestic life, migration, gender, and political narratives, lending inspiration for the construction of utopian visions loomed and dreamt into large and intimate draperies.
Considering the materiality of tapestry-making, Gather asks, what are the motivations for turning to textile as a medium for art-making? Is it a matter of necessity – where the material-use is available in excess, or a product of what is readily available? This is the case with the works of Wallen Mapondera. Often crafting works from discarded packaging material, Mapondera’s tattered tapestry is made from salvaged tarpaulin tents that once served as shelter for informal traders, but was left behind after police raids forced the traders to abandon their stalls indefinitely. Rips in the material creates silhouettes of passing figures, reminding us of the rift left behind following the forceful clash between the draconian power structures governing Zimbabwe, and the informal trading the country is now dependent on.
Billie Zangewa creates intricate patchworks from silk swatches. Intimate in detail, Zangewa draws us in with her delicate hand-stitched pieces. Pre-online dating and early on in her career, Zangewa created Infinite Possibilities (2005) to commemorate the range of men she met during this period of her life. It dates back to her formative years, as a young artist living and working in Paris. In this work Zangewa shares her personal experiences, but still within what she refers to as “being seen through the eyes of others”. Expanding on these moments of candid figuration caught by artists working with textile, Musa N. Nxumalo’s lens captures urban youth culture in moments of lightness and boundless hedonism. Nxumalo’s use of fabric allows him to present photography on a vast scale, creating flag-like draperies serving as celebratory banners for unapologetic self-expression.
Gather also sees a gendered subversion to the craft of working with textile – often stereotyped as ‘women’s work’. Jody Paulsen utilises the ambiguous and undefined ‘role’-expectation of queerness to dismantle the expected norms of gendered labour. His obsessively intricate layers of collaged felt creates for utopian visions and characters that have departed from polarizing gender-construction, forming striking and complex colour-fields from where his subjects both jump out of the surface and merge into the camouflage of patterns and forms.
Hello (2016) by Gerda Scheepers reflects the artist’s wry humour. A cut open t-shirt is stretched out onto the wall like a drying animal-skin hide, with two peculiar protruding hills where one would expect breasts to be. The effect is somewhat uncanny by its dissection of the suggestive body; an imitation of physical and psychological gestures. The white shirt is stained with chalk marks resembling tyre tracks, enacting a subtle sense of violence onto the crisp white material. Humour being a poignant method in making uncomfortable realities relatable and even approachable, Michaela Younge sources found tapestries into which she stitches her own quirky narratives inspired by the mundaneness of daily life in South Africa. This tableaux of posed and positioned figures have a sense of malicious intent, holstering bloody weapons with amputated limbs.
While Younge’s work is often small in size, encouraging a closer look at the scenes playing out on the tapestry surface, textile work has the potential of being woven into any imagined scale. Mongezi Ncaphayi’s abstract paintings function as spiritual maps that not only allow for freedom of interpretation but freedom from restraints. His work, unframed and suspended away from the wall, creates a sense of dual archways or portals – intended to be viewed from both sides. A constellation of line and colour, Ncaphayi’s work is all encompassing as one looks up at the work, submerged in abstract symbols floating over the surface.
Textiles, particularly in most African contexts of social relations and customs, take on deeply symbolic attributes. Gestures of gifting textiles is a symbol of love and appreciation in many familial customs throughout the continent. Various materials can have a myriad of meaning, making this gesture a conscious moment of connecting with one another.
Lawrence Lemaoana utilises Kanga – a material ladened with messages, usually in the form of riddles or proverbs, that is often gifted during special occasions. Using bold text stitched into the complex patterns printed on Kanga material, Lemaoana’s work satirises mass media by appropriating political dictums into the fabric. Simlarly, Thania Petersen utilises a known tapestry form – the Islam prayer mat – to recreate its signified meaning. Ritualised in stitches, like the repetition of prayer, Petersen’s tapestries hold space for meditative moments – a healing force that stands in opposition to the political distortion Wahhabism presents to the world’s perception of the Islamic faith – symbolised by the seeping black threaded into the tapestry’s making.
Alexandra Karakashian too experiments with the colour black, as she submerges material into pigment and oil to create the proverbial ‘living paintings’ that crosses the surface of textile in time. Wrapped like non-functional flags, Orphans of Recent Events VI and VII (2020) continue Karakashian’s series exploring notions of mourning – both of an individual and collective nature – and the lamentation of the loss of land and of those who have been ‘unhomed’. Jeanne Gaigher’s Vinegar (2020) also lends itself to the ambiguity that painting can offer. Creating a light surface with unstretched canvas, her work offers an alternative to the convention of painting as she pins the shaped material straight to the wall. Layers of paint and scrim camouflages a watery surface of dreamy mundanity.
But the concept of the everyday exceeds that of domestic interiors. In fact, to human lives it can be as contrasting as the relationship of home to migration. Ibrahim Mahama comments on the refugee crisis pertaining to Ghana and the world at large. His use of jute sacks as large scale installations goes to the heart of working with tactile materiality. Perhaps simply the nature of communal work, creating tapestries and quilts, reflects a shift in the art world which is worth examining further – towards a more socially aware and collaborative practice.
In many ways Gather looks to this notion for a more accessible paradigm within which the artworld can operate. In presenting work from this part of the world, considering the restrictions that shipping work to an international audience causes, it is worth noting how the full scale of this exhibition can be folded and packed into a single crate.